Thursday, June 25, 2015
Donkeyland, Neighborhood Escapades
Donkeyland, Neighborhood Escapades
(By Dennis L. Siluk, Dr. H.c.)
‘A Neighborhood Heist’
((A Neighborhood Escapade) (1962))
Big Bopper and Reno of Donkeyland
It was a weekend, midafternoon in the very middle of summer. Big Bopper, whom was also called Ace whose real name was Jerry S., six-foot six, 200-pounds, dumber than a blind-duck, who could be made to follow, but never made to fully understand, never worked a day in his life—although goodhearted—or if he did work, it was on special occasions, a young man of twenty-five he was sitting on the wooden steps head-to-head with the wooden porch, in front of Roger and Ronny’s house, parallel Cayuga Street, and right across the street from my home, at 186 Cayuga, he lived several blocks away on Sims; I’m Chick Evens, fifteen years old, and the story begins as follows: Roger two to three years my senior, and the neighborhood charmer with his good looks, and smooth talking especially with the gals, and Ronny his brother my age, and a closer buddy than Roger was to me, was thinking, contemplating on how to get drinking money for the gang, we all wanted to party. That this is true, fair readers, I intend to show you by its contrary, if there is a will, there is a way. Especially in the cunning of a man, in this case, a neighborhood, dying for a drink. We were a group of impulsive, tricky, simple-minded, but capable of breaking the law to get—not recognition, but rather, a long drunken weekend.
Roger’s house was a four apartment complex, kind of ramshackle. Stretching outward in the back was the railroad yard, and Structural Steel Company. With the trees and lighter foliage, it was scarcely distinguishable from each other except in height and coloring, the steel company was more noticeable.
Roger had just sold me his WWII, Army Jacket, that had on the back of it “I’m Just a Lonely Boy,” signifying the popular song of the day by a young national musician, a Rock and Roll singer called Paul Anka (whom I’d see in person, in a nightclub casino, while in Las Vegas, in the 1980s, vacationing with my mother; he actually bump into me. I tried to get his autograph, but he paid me no attention and now baldheaded and a little on the rough side, was still thinking he was the young peacock he used to be and gave all the giggle girls preference… oh well!) As I was about to say, I traded my bronze plated battle-axe for that jacket.
Roger put the battle-axe into his house and when he came back out, he put his elbows propped on his knees like the Big Bopper, sat alongside him thinking, as Ronnie, Doug, and the rest us guys and gals stayed standing, here and there and pacing, myself leaning on one of the porch 4 x 4 rafters that held a little roof over the open porch.
Roger’s age, was a year older than my brother’s, whom was called Gunner, he and Mouse both reckless with their roadsters, were also the biggest neighborhood car thieves. They carried a chain of keys that must have weighed five pounds, I would imagine they had some sore thighs at night.
Larry L., the boxer, was there, who was called Lou, Steve L., who was called Reno, he was the fat man of the neighborhood and he was there (incidentally, the neighborhood had a nickname coined by the police: Donkeyland) and a few of the neighborhood girls were there, like: Nancy M, Jackie S., and Jennie S., Nancy was going out with Dave, whom was my brother’s age, two years older than I, but he was at home working on his 1940 Fort, so he wasn’t there, and Jackie, had dated me a year prior, now a free agent Jennie’s sister, and Jennie was dating Lou, who was twenty at the time. All us gazing out at the street, and at Lorimar’s and Mrs. Stanley’s house, side by side (Mrs. Stanley an old lady at that time, perhaps in her 70s, would live to be over 90), right across the street, and Lorimar came out, gazing at us gazing, and wondering what was on in our minds, and joined us; his father was a renowned chef, and in years yet to come he’d be a top chef like his father for the railroad and get a Presidential Citation for his cuisine. So here we all were gazing at the asphalt street, and the houses on the embankment across the street, three houses, and we are all trying to figure out, how we were going to get drunk that night, and nobody had a dime, it was 1962.
Sam L., and his girlfriend Nancy, a different Nancy, Don Brandt and his sister Gloria, whom dated a few different neighborhood fellows off and on, they all came by, and said their hello, chi chattered a tinge, and went about their ways.
Cayuga Street was two blocks long, at one end was Mississippi Street that went from the neighborhood all the way down to the downtown area of St. Paul that bordered the Mississippi River. On the other side of Cayuga Street, was Oakland Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in St. Paul, and Minneapolis, that ran a good length of Jackson Street where we drank at night if we couldn’t find another location, although we used the Church steps off Jackson Street, by Sycamore, across the street from the Jew’s Store, — there we also drank quite a lot in those days. Other than that—Bill K., and I— found garages to drink in, that’s of course when I wasn’t with the gang, and more often than not I wasn’t, contrary to Gunner my brother. Or for that matter we all drank in someone’s car in what was called the ‘Turnaround’ or ‘Turnabout,’ an empty lot next to my grandfather’s garage, the garage was on a plateau, next to an empty lot, the house on an embankment next to it. Old grandpa never said much about the noise, and he slept those summers on the porch, and surely he heard a lot, but he could swear better than a mule driver. It was I believe that he could not speak English well, having emigrated from Russia to America in 1916, and had fought in WWI, for the Americans in France, thus acquiring his citizenship.
So here we were without a dime, and Roger was thinking.
And Gunner (his real name being Mike), he had run away from home that summer, kind of… it was more like a two week runaway-vacation, he was seventeen and was fighting for the rights to stay out until Midnight instead of ten-o’clock. He’d sneak back home when mother was working, she worked at Swift’s Meatpacking, as a meatpacker, and he’d steal grandpa’s beer, give it to the boys in the neighborhood, and grandpa, who had kind of a stale taste for me, blamed me for the missing beer. Not sure why Mike fought for the late hours, he snuck out the attic window any night, and anytime of the night he wanted to. Anyhow he stayed out till God only knows when, and he’d creep back in through that same window which he had—believe it or not—grandpa’s ladder set aside for such occasions—then he’d tell me to hush up, and not tell ma, and I never did. Of course, we all lived with my grandfather, and he worked up until his 80th –year, so he was gone all the time too.
Anyhow, Gunner would come home, take can-goods and then rush off and sleep in the vacant cars at night, after the neighborhood guys got in trouble with supplying him with a bed at their homes for a week. Oh, and he did get his late hours, after starving a few days, and losing a few pounds.
As I was saying, or about to say, Roger was thinking on how to get the booze. And Jerry, or Ace, was the only one old enough to buy. So we had to butter him up some, and he could be a hard sell now and then. I mean he was wise to us, and flourished in his free drinking sprees those many years by going to the Liquor Store for us, and when he bought for us, believe it or not he got the lion share of the product: wine, beer or whatever. As years passed of course, that went downhill when a few of the other boys could buy, like Jack T., and Tom T., brothers, they were part of the gang too, but not part of this escapade. Actually there were some twenty-two in all that I can recall belonging one-way or another to the Neighborhood gang. And Big Bopper always complained on his increasingly many visits to the Liquor Store, that he was being questioned by the owner if he was selling to minors. But we didn’t care, we wanted our booze. By his own account, this was his only permanent job in those early years of my youth. He had shelter and food from his mother, and his father had a good paying job as the Chief of the Fire Station in St. Paul, and as I’ve said, he got his booze from us tax free.
Well, as Roger was thinking, the Big Bopper said he was hungry, so for a half hour he resigned himself to becoming a permanent pest, and was going to go home and eat. What could one do with such a person? Roger knew should he go home, we lost our booze-ticket, and we all knew after he ate obviously would run off to some bar and mooch drinks off someone else. And to get him out of that bar would take a lot more inducement. You couldn’t be sorry for him, just alert to his cleverness. So Doug advised Roger to go with him, and get his false teeth that he left at home, and bring them back here, and Roger would get him a few sandwiches out of his house, when no one was looking. Oh yes, I should mention, the sandwiches were mentioned first, and then came the false teeth, simply a smokescreen to evade us, his gums were so hard he actually didn’t need them teeth.
So Roger drove him home, he got his teeth, and transplanted them in his mouth, thus, his cheeks were no longer sunken in. And he came back to take up his old friendships with the boys, and once again we in general could rely on the help of our bosom buddy.
But the booze, how were we going to find some way to get the beer or whatever: wine, whiskey, any kind of alcohol would do, although I preferred beer. And all Roger’s ideas, efforts hitherto had miscarried. We had nothing to sell, not even copper to sell, sometimes in the night we’d jump over the junkyard fence, feed the police dog who watched the yard a steak bone, a bribe to be quiet, and he obeyed, and we’d take some copper, and the next day we’d sell it back to them, and hence, we had our money for drinking that night, but we had no copper, or car batteries or hubcaps to sell this late afternoon. Everyone gaped at everyone else, as if we were all prodigal, reckless and careless for not having an idea. And Ace was just a big child who stood waiting to be fed his bottle of booze, and in the back of his mind, he knew, and we knew what he was thinking: escape! Yes, escape from us because he was feeling the pain of sobriety, and we were sure he didn’t care if he had to, he would, inflict his pain onto us, and find his own waterhole. For such reasons we kept an eye on him, as if he was our golden goose. He was just not laying any golden eggs, he seldom had money, and if he did, he’d never tell, his money was for his personal booze, and ours was for his collective booze drinking. In that sense, he was the cleverest of all small business-men.
Then Roger came up with a plan. This is what he said, although it was a microscope chance, we’d take it, it was: do or die:
“At nine o’clock, there’s a train coming,” he said, as I shrank a bit when I heard it, feeling I had an idea what was to come next, or what he was about to say: so, he assured one and all, this business transaction, would be a success, and everyone seemed to know about this escapade he was about to mention, once he mentioned it, in that it wasn’t new, it was just he knew the timing for some reason or another, more so than anyone else: “those who do not want to be in on this, just say no and go!” he commented. And Lorimar and Ronnie and I were now retrospectively uncertain, everyone thought us peculiar, and I confined myself to giving in, Lorimar and Ronnie left, but it would be the first time and the last for me, —as I look back it was random and half hazard ‘okay,’ I said, as my memory brings back that split second decision, not wanting to be sent to Redwing’s Boys Reformatory, or Boys Town, for delinquents, where half the neighborhood had at one time or another ended up. It was a Federal Offence.
“We can break the seals off one of the boxcars of the train, it will have a stopover right in back of our house here at nine o’clock, and we have only about twenty-minutes to do the job because it will leave and be headed for Chicago, and usually one of the cars will be filled up with cases of beer, but I can’t promise you that!” Said Roger.
I was breathing quickly under those thoughts.
“Those who do not carry any cases of beer, don’t drink,” he ventured to say. All the same I felt upset. With that thought in hand of having no other way to get any beer, I agreed. It was no big thing to the guys if I stepped out, and went home, they’d just have more to drink, for Roger or the boys barely acknowledged me one way or the other, and would simply give me an absent smile, greet me goodbye with a wave from the street, as often I would not participate with their shenanigans; treat me as if I was a passing acquaintance, but Gunner was different, they kind of expected him to go along.
At last the train came, someone pulled out a wire cutter’s from his pocket, and jumped up on a edge of the boxcar, and cut the Federal Seal off, that was attached to the door, opened up the door—matter of fact, there was no need for anyone to enter the boxcar since the cases of beer were so tightly packed an inch away from the door—all one needed to do was reach and pull, we took twenty-five cases of beer, it was so dark an evening so hot a summer, not a watchman cared to check a thing, so it was overshadowed so much as that the high wall of cases behind the cases we took, we could have emptied them out too, but no one wanted to press their luck, and time was valued.
Well, we didn’t need Ace that night of course, and he was the laziest of all of us, and he only took two cases of beer, and was too scared to make a double trip to the boxcar, yet out of consideration we let him drink all he wanted to which perhaps was three cases himself. We stockpiled the cases of beer in two locations. We were all good friends, and never stole from one another, but when it came to drinking, it wasn’t stealing, and we all had enormous drinking habits, so we all kept an eye on the two garages we kept the beer in for our night drinking spree, which for a few of us was 72-hours straight. Although no one wanted to stir up matters, and no matters got stirred up over the drinking of the twenty-five cases that I know of, and some of that beer got drank in the cemetery, and the girls had their share, and it didn’t last but the long weekend, and after the last bottle was drank, which was a trivial affair, and it’s hardly worth mentioning, we sold the twenty-five cases of empty bottles on the following Monday, and bought two cases of can beer. The Big Bopper was a tinge embarrassed to bring in so many cases, but we did odder things for a drink. And that my friends was one hell of a weekend.
In Memory of the following neighborhood fellows who have passed on: Jerry Spiegelberg (Big Bopper), Kathy Spiegelberg, Steve Ludberg, Sid Moeller, Bill K., David, Roger L., Lorimar and Brian Yankcavick, Jerry and Jim Hino, and Allen Juneau, Don G. and Mike M.
No: 1086/6-18-2015/Version two: 2879-words (450-more words than version One)
‘The Neighbor Ogress’
((A Neighborhood Escaped) (1963))
The reader has not forgotten that there are twenty-two-personages within the neighborhood which were what I consider somewhat closely netted, and this one summer day, in 1963, two new-comers they watched closely who had come into the neighborhood most recently, were about to get their initiation. Let me say one looked a little Italian, Richard Z., and in time would end up in prison for rape. The other, Patron, he was the son of a grocery store owner, whose father had runoff left him and his mother: his mother had invested in one of two of the neighborhood stores, both owned by Jews, this one being on Buffalo Street, as the original owners, having own the store for some twenty-years, migrated to Israel.
Whenever, these two fellas showed up one evening amongst the rest of us, everyone threw occasional hurried glances at them—and in time to come—never seemed to mix well with the boys, and the guys never saw them as equals. As if they didn’t belong.
Doug, who looked more like the wrestler Crusher, muscles budging out here and there, as if the skin of his body was too thin for his muscles, and was hidden beneath some slate-colored dust, was more unpredictable and a little less tolerant than the average gang member although a swell friend when in need, and a good drinking partner, that is to say, we all had our narrow mindedness, in that we were all carved from the same neighborhood, yet we were different plates of sustenance; and from too much smoking, like many of the gang members, when he smiled and showed his teeth, they were more yellow than white, perhaps infectious gums as well, with his bad odor, and had it not been for Lou, the boxer, he would have I believe tried to bully more than he bullied. With that said, us guys were called into secret talk, when they both were sitting by a bonfire in the empty lot drinking beer with us this one summer evening, assumed:
“Let’s initiate the new-comers!” said Doug.
Knowing Doug, I felt they were worse off than lambs in a slaughterhouse, and had I said a word to the contrary, I would have been overturned, and I would have been one of those folks in hell praying for ice water.
As we all observed the two, a little ways far-off from us, as not being able to hear a word Doug was saying, we nodded our heads ‘okay’. Thus the dire insinuation was in place.
Well, Doug was there, Sam, Gunner, and Mouse, Ronnie, and Lou was there, and Roger L., the Big Bopper, and myself, and John L., Lou’s cousin. Roger M., never seemed to join the guys in our escapades, always working on cars across the bridge off Mississippi Street, another of the group members, a member that was really outside the group, one that was perhaps the best mechanic of us all. He really didn’t have time for monkey-business like us—or so it appeared to me, but gave us lots of advice on car problems. Anyhow, as I was about to say, after having cautiously consulted one another, we concealed our devious plan, or so called capper Doug had suggested.
This day the Big Bopper had his teeth in his mouth, and as usual was chewing on something he had hidden in his jacket pocket, he seemingly stole cookies or whatnot, have you before he left his house every time he made a visit to his house, to nibble on throughout the day, which made him appear satisfied, with his big frame.
Now the new-comers laughed loudly at some joke that slipped out of their mouths, as we all rejoined them. Jackie, Nancy, Jennie, and Carol, Gunner’s future wife was being entertained by Richard and Patron. And before the next joke was to be shut, Doug said—as he manifested himself—by an impatient gesture for them both to rise, and us guys beside Doug, and the gals whom showed a dislike with their watchful attendance remaining seated on the log, and on the two cases of beer we had, knew something was up.
Faster than a flying cockroach, a few of the boys flung themselves onto the two, flat on the ground.
Through astonished, doubtless, rather than pity, they were allowed to stand up and walk to the place of their destination, with a sign of command. They were afraid, stammered some.
“Now, my boy,” said Doug to Richard, staring hard eyed at him, and then at Patron, whom would become in the following decade, an Air Marshal, said:
The countenance of the girls became distressed, they turned their backs somewhat, drooping their bosoms, with dark eyed.
“You, my poor girls,” said Doug mockingly, and Lou looked at Jennie, shook his head as to say, ‘go before we do what we’re going to do,’ and they all left, but only a short distance.
“You have to have our neighborhood initiation!” repeated Doug, a few of the boys holding the two now in twisted arm locks. Although prior to today, we never had one, we invented one Johnny-on-the-spot, as they say.
I’m not sure what went through their minds, it was not suffering misery or hunger, or stealing something they had to do, actually they didn’t have to do much, it was the shame of it I suppose, at least after the fact that hit their minds, but for the boys it was play, and they didn’t want to dishearten them, or take honor from them, they intended to leave them in place, but their faces turned pale.
Ace that is Big Bopper, kept turning round his fingers you could see his big knuckles bobbing up and down, it was as if he was Paladin, on the movie “Have Gun Will Travel,” that was on every week, ready to have a showdown with his five shot Colt Revolver; he quivered with indignation at such debasement. I think it was more to do with his father being the Chief of the Fire Department, and him being recognized.
“Well,” said Doug, “what ails you?”
As for myself, Chick Evens I was unwilling to betray my emotions, replied in a tone of calm as I could assume, that I was leaving, I wanted no part of this, and I turnabout and left and walked a distance away but could see all, as if being an amateur bully, and okay with it. I followed the gals up to and on top of Indian’s Hill, which was a distance away from Cayuga Street, and being part of the empty lot which was really, several lots in one. Perhaps four to six acres. I was about sixteen then. I did not care for anything like that, what they were about to do that is, a shameful thing at worse; I was not better than them, I was simply more fragile than they, it would be hard to live with for me. To them it was comedy, and drama in Donkeyland, no more no less. Not a big thing. On some occasions, they tied ropes onto cat tails, and hung them over clothes lines and watched them fight as they drank down their beer. On Halloween, if you didn’t give, their joke was to put dung, of some sort into a bag, light it on fire on someone’s doorstep, that was stingy, and watch them stomp it out.
Henceforward, they stripped the two lads down some, and tied them to a telephone pole, which had a fire alarm attached to it, and pulled the alarm and waited for the fire truck to come. When at twenty-minutes waiting there it came. And the boys laughed so hard and so long they had to hold their stomachs, and put out their cigarettes, lest they burn their fingers, and spit up the beer they had just drank, watching the firemen, and Ace’s father, shaking his head right to left, knowing it was a pun, not a serious event, and here the boys are trying to catch their breath in laughter, and Big Bopper trying to hid behind a tree on Indian’s Hill, so his father could not see him, peeping through a squirrel hole made from one side to the other, as a watch out for the police by one of the boys, who knows when: they were by all physical means, tuckered out as if they were in a brawl, with jollity.
As for the two who got initiated, well they were overwhelmed with weariness that they stretched themselves every-which-way, not knowing at what resolution to stop. But they never gave one name of the gang member’s out. The firemen urged them to yield a name. Save, they would never live through the night if they did, and so the firemen gave up, after none would consent, and went their way.
As for us, it was dusk, and we all blended into the little wooded area on Indian’s Hill, like a cloud of grasshoppers; all dazzled by the psychodrama played out, and I couldn’t perceive, or if so, confusedly, the sport of this.
The two fellas kneecaps were somewhat bruised. Their spirit crushed, or cracked, and as every night, this night also fell to a deep darkness. And everyone went back to delighting themselves with drink. The spectacle was over.
It kind of spoiled my night drinking, because I was more the friend to those two fellas, than the gang was, and they never were accepted into gang as equals. And to be fair, and perhaps blaming, the fire chief, which was Big Bopper’s father, was furious, he must of saw Big Bopper as he ran up Indian’s Hill as the fire trucks turned around the corner of Mississippi and Cayuga Street, then stopped to see the mischievous works of the Donkeyland Members. Big Bopper was afraid to go home that night, so he slept in a car and waited until morning when his father would be gone back to work, snuck home to get a bread-basket of sorts, food from his mother, whom always took his side. Kind of babied him, all per near seven feet of him, and 200-pounds.
As for Patron, he told me his mother told him not to hang out with me, or the guys. He did escape from his mother, now and then, and did hang out with me, but avoided the guys. And when I told the boys what his mother had told him—and that was not a wise decision on my behalf, —they called him ‘Mother’s boy’ which was a scornful term that promulgated more verbal punishment in the future. There were a few tarnished words the boys threw at Patron’s store, but never in a voice of terror to concern the old woman whom the boys named, somewhat named, ‘The Old Ogress’ whom I’m sure did not yield to any outburst of insatiable hatred toward us boys. As my mother once told me: learn how to run faster, or fight better, I guess for them they had a third choice, to avoid, and they did for the most part, as for me, that option was not open, I had to learn how to fight better.
Later on that evening, most of the gang after finishing off the two cases of beer, went up to the local bar, called “Bram’s” a regular mouse trap for trouble. And I do think we shall form an acquaintance, you and I with this mousetrap, should I venture to write another neighborhood escapade. But let me describe it from the old days, it was a den of ruffians, where often fierce struggles ensued. A tavern where some of the gang members, were weaned from their adolescence to old age. And for the readers in Donkeyland, it is quite at your service I do so, for posterity sake, if nothing else.
Copyright © 2015 Dennis L. Siluk, Dr. h.c.
Dedicated to Roger Mueller, Brian and Lorimar
Juvenile Detention Center
((A Neighborhood Escaped) (1963))
To the left and right, the view is restricted by light pinkish stone blocks, large bricks, with a gloss to them; an ash-colored floor; above and throughout this building’s structure, are the walls of a juvenile detention center. A holdover before going to Boys Town, or Redwing Reformatory, or if the judge decides, back home. The cell has chalk-like white doors, faintly shaded with a cream color like haze. The window in this 12 x 6 foot room, towards the east, the morning sun rises in the sky, has a pearl-yellowish tint to it. At its zenith an orange-yellowness spreads out touching the morning clouds which stretches over this structure called: “Woodview”. Patches of blue surround the white and shady clouds, the patches of blue assume a kind of paleness, and perhaps it’ll rain. Youth and earth are simply pebbles in time, like days. Time and space floats—it is like one is standing still at the speed of light, not aging, not doing anything. I can scarcely distinguish one hour from the next, but from the summer light in the sky I can tell by its vibrations, on a sunny day, what part of the day it is, especially at twilight, and sunrise.
God the Father has a long beard, this I know for certain, and the apostles have goat-skin tunics. The person across the hall in the other cell is seated on his bed, cross-legged, I know this also for a fact. And I also know for a statistic, I’m not made for serving time, it’s been over two-weeks, I’m fifteen years old, and this is my fifteenth day in here. The sun has gone over the building, must be on the other side.
“Another day!” What more can I say, “One more gone forevermore.” This is miserable, more so than anything I can think of. All the things I would be doing if I was not here. I’d head on down to downtown to the Mississippi River. Climb Indian’s Hell in our neighborhood, the police call ‘Donkeyland’ or see Jackie, we were dating, or Nancy Pit, I dated her last summer, or Kathy S., she’s been around, Big Bopper said she’s interested in me. Or I’d be singing and humming with my guitar, like Elvis, or Rick Nelson, or Johnny Cash, or hanging out with the boys, or drinking, but that’s what got me in here in the first place, drinking under age. Now all I do is keep arranging invisible things, or every piece of furniture in my cell, which is really nothing but a desk, and a toilet and a bed and a chair, and a Bible, and count those large stone looking cement bricks that make up the walls. I think of how the brick layer had to place every brick in place, just for this one little room.
Trifling acts. I ask to be allowed to do duties in the kitchen, I can perform such with ease, and so far they’ve allowed me to so, wash dishes, mop the floor, prepare this or that food item, by show and tell, and then do. We all eat and drink breakfast, lunch and supper, and get up with the chickens, every day, everything the same, regulated. Monkey see, monkey do.
I socked somebody square on the right side of the face, lowered his jaw some, after volleyball yesterday, as we were leaving the gym, up the stairway, I hit him so hard he slid down the stairs like a wounded ostrich. You got to be careful though, it was that I was on the higher step, and he kept poking me with his finger in the back, he actually been needling me for days unending, looking to advance his reputation in here, anyhow, I did a turnabout, and with a slight learn, smacked him a good one! When one is on a hill as I was, it is a good point of attack, if need be, I have a point of retreat also, whereas, he has none other than forward where he can’t go I’m blocking his way, or back where he came from: thus, down, down, down he fell with two arms extended, he fell backwards onto the bottom step and floor. That punch I hit him was as if I lost the fountain of mercy inside my soul, and the devil flowed though me, into my brain, or perhaps God was saying: enough is enough, knock him a good one, and teach him a lesson. Whatever the case may be, He doesn’t bother me anymore, and my anger is dried up. Why is this? ... Perhaps satisfaction?
When they sent me to Woodview, after I got smart with the judge, my mother cried some, first time I ever saw her cry, she sank into a dying state, so it appeared: “My brother’s in Redwing,” I told the judge, “send me there, I’d like to be with him.” The judge had a flat effect on his face, and my mother said something to the consequence: “He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” And she wept. There appeared aging around her eyes, like rings. The judge addressed her, “He’ll get a taste of confinement at Woodview, and we’ll see how he responds to that before I make my decision,” thus he delayed a possible lengthy incarceration, which might have been nine-months, but only suspended temporarily, to a more exacting juvenile center for trial and error. Delayed for a couple of weeks, to be reevaluated, that is.
As my mother fled my presence, somewhat in disarray, my smart mouth must had been a loud and menacing tone or echo in her head; like a camel galloping continuously until she was so far out of my range, it could no longer reach her, and my face vanished from her sight. At which point I became spent.
This cell is like a subterranean grotto, amid whose gloom, the air has stifled me with deterioration, and the odors of youthful sweat, no sweet smelling aromatics around, although the aroma that comes from the kitchen—its herbs and so forth—adds a better chemistry to it, at meal times. I suppose it’s that way, anytime you’re around groups of people.
I heard a voice arise down the hall, this is my 15th day, — they’re calling my name over the announcement system, my mind drifts into a hideous haze. I flee to the iron door, it has a little window in it, and one of the staff is coming towards my room with the key! I feel like a scorpion ready to crawl out of a hole, amongst the stones, having been hidden from the eagle overhead, who is constantly whirling in circles across the sky awaiting for someone to try and escape, there has been a few who used a toothbrush to open these windows I hear, and escaped: my subconscious says “Don’t get smart again.”
The devil or is it a demon who inhabits the upper corner of this cell with me, whomever, he is groaning, telling me: “Scratch his eyeballs out of their sockets with your talons, bite his flesh, take a hunk out of his cheeks, brush them away with your wings, you’ll get their respect, bite and tear off one ear, gnaw his nose in half, hurl him to the ground! Have no fear, I’ll go along with you.”
I’ve been his venerable pupil too long I tell myself. He calls himself, Agaliarept, says he’s Lucifer’s right hand man. Something tells me he’s his flunkey, one of those want-to-be folk demon.
Whatever the case may be, he’s a devious one, but I tell him “I’ve learned my lesson, it’s over!” and he leaves, I’m quite sure he’s found a new summit to whisper his mischief from.
I am this day, discharged, put on six-month’s probation, returning home. As I leave the facility, I pass alongside the judge, brush against his $1000-dollar suit, it’s actually shinny. I tell the judge, “I’ve had enough.” He just nods his head with a smile.
His discourse—what he had said in his chambers—sometimes comes back to my memory, and though I try not to dwell upon it, it can haunt my thoughts, he implied, ‘You got to learn one way or the other, the hard way or the easy way,’ the lesson was well taken, and it reminds me of the gas chamber when I went through boot camp at Fort Bragg, in ‘69, in the Army, they have you take off the gasmask so you can feel the pain the gas causes, so you don’t forget, I think the judge had the same training I had in the Army, but long before me.
A Way You Have to Be!
(Washington High School, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1963)
When he saw me standing in line, the senior—myself being a sophomore at the time—it wasn’t about anything in particular, something about wanting to get ahead of me in the lunch line, in the cafeteria, and then he and I started fighting, he had tried to push his way in-between me and the guy ahead of me, and in the process pushing me backwards, and he pushed me backwards in a hostile way, and I dragged him out of the line like a ragdoll, I had been weightlifting back then, I had muscles coming out of my ears, and fingers and toes, and nose, much less biceps, and I overturned him concluded and onto one of the tables, then leaning over him, knee on his chest, and about to hammer on his face, decided in the clap of an eye, in choking him, thus, with both hands curled around his roaster like neck, I was clogging his breathing, per near knock him out cold, lest I kill him I let up. Everybody was too stunned to pull me off him, or fearful, or perhaps it was entertaining, he was the bully sort; and he was about my weight, and my height, nearly the same built, but surly with not nearly the strength. He couldn’t have gotten loose if he wanted to, I had knocked all the fight out of him, when his back hit the table—like a hammer hitting an anvil. When I let up on him, he couldn’t swallow, he sounded hoarse. I hurt him bad: the show was over.
Well, I went back to the line, regained my composure, and there were plenty of kids looking at him and me, when he said, “It’s not fair a sophomore should get away with this,” to his friends. I made a turnabout while down near the food counter at this time, and said, “What did you say?” and I believe he replied, “I don’t know, all right!” And he was all right, but with plenty of bruises I’d think, and quite rough looking, sounding like a frog with a rustic tone to his voice; by and large, he was on guard, not looking for a rematch, but perhaps wishing his friends would back him up, and they didn’t.
I sat down and ate my food off my tray, with Bill, a friend from the neighborhood, and nobody came after me; I had plenty of friends from my neighborhood too, who were also tough, and my brother was a senior there, and by and by I would have gotten even, and Bill was a fighter too.
It was late, and everyone had left the cafeteria, except me, who sat at a corner table, trying to calm myself down some, an electric light overhead. I didn’t care if I’d go late to class, matter of fact, I didn’t care if I ever went back to class.
In those days (1963), the principals, or at least at Washington High School, in St. Paul, Minnesota, were all very strict. You may not believe this, but he wanted to punish me and not the perpetrator the one who started it all, it was my second fight, that year, and he wanted to expel me from school, with the exception of, allowing me back in a week.
My brother got word of the incident, and accompanied me to the principal’s office, —which I really didn’t want to do—save, he wanted to have his say-so, and as for me, I was done with the mess, and really didn’t care if I ever went back to school or not; when I had confirmed with Mike what I considered, the good news, that, yes, I was going to be expelled, he got angry—not at me, but the situation, and it took a lot for him to get angry in those days, he wasn’t a hothead like me, but it got his goat, that the other kid got off scot-free, this also was a hot peeve.
When we walked in together, into the Principal’s office, he had been standing there previously by his desk, he saw us, and then sat himself down in a chair against the wall—we had no invitation: amused eyes, indexed book opened, as if he was giving some word a diagnoses, some deep thought, had been pacing the floor just beforehand, would be a good guess. My brother said, as if he had already accessed as to the treatment being given me, “You live in a different world than we do, Mr. Principle, we live down in a rough neighborhood, you should visit it sometime, then you’d know we don’t let people push us around, my brother Chick, was simply standing his ground.” (Most everyone referred to me back then as Chick, not Dennis.)
The simplicity and directness of my brother’s disapproval constituted almost a hurt to the principle: so unexpectedly made himself accessible. I had no sense the principle was on the defensive, this was no game. And there was some satisfaction to the additional knowledge, he was acquiring.
“Well,” said the principal, rotating his chair to the over-heated, radiator, as if in thought (knowing good and well he had let the other kid off lightly): “The other lad, said he started the fight, and your brother didn’t disagree!”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that, but did you ask him why he started it?”
“Why…? I wasn’t there.”
But Mike was determined to get his point across, whether he liked it or not, either way, it was coming out.
“What’s the matter with you, you don’t let people push you out of the lunch line because they feel like it, and allow them to bully you, and how would my brother look letting this joker push him around so everyone can see, and you don’t run to the principle for such matters…?”
“Is that what happened?” asked the principal, in disarray.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way my brother’s supposed to be! You would have simply let the bully, bully him.”
“I’m sorry,” said the principal (ere, he yielded) “but I think we do understand each other, or perhaps I want to, your brother was quiet on some of these facts, therefore, I’ll simply give him a letter of reprimand, and he can bring it home, have your mother sign it, and we’ll forget the suspension. But this is a warning, you do your fighting elsewhere!”
I never had the right words back then, so perhaps my silence, or deletion of the facts, distorted the facts for the principle, he did not have a full description, picture, whatever the case, mother never found out about it, I simply signed the note, and returned it to the office the next day. Actually, I had singed all her notes back then, had I let her sign it, they would have figured it was a forgery.
I suppose as I look back on this, the principle had closed sympathetically on this matter. And as I walked out of his office, as I looked over to greet my brother’s eyes, I’m sure he could see in mine surprise and delight. Kind of like saying, ‘Boy isn’t this cool though,” but I didn’t say that, I didn’t say anything. I think my hands were even a little moist, and I wiped my forehead dry, then dried my palms on my trousers a second time. I didn’t like that kind of confrontation back in those days. I’d had rather fought than confront, but I did seemingly breathe better through my skin, I guess, perhaps that’s a good sign of health, so I’d learn later on in life, that is to say, your body is healthy, because I felt full of oxygen, ready for combat if need be. But somehow I was sweating’ more than usual now. “Funny, isn’t it,” I thought, what verbal challenging can cause, per near hyperventilation. Perhaps there was some booze seep out of me likewise, I did my share of night drinking, too!
“Go on back to your class tomorrow” Mike urged after a delicious moment of silence.
“Go on,” he insisted, “I’ll see you in the neighborhood,” and I went to my locker and got my items: jacket and so forth, and went about my way.
No: 1022 (9-15 & 16-2014)
((A Neighborhood Escapade) (1965))
The girl, Gayle Johnson, was one of a freshman cheerleaders at Washington High School. A nice girl, always dressed for that times; she was a year younger than I, I was seventeen or eighteen at the time, a senior, and a hallway monitor during the lunch periods. It was the summer of ’65. She was lean, but shapely, and feminine; smart looking; not real tall, shorter than she was taller, with big eyes, and wavy soft blond hair; an eye catcher. Every day of school, five days a week she’d come walking down that hallway with two or so of her girlfriends. It took all of a few minutes. She never said more than hello, along with giving me a big smile. She appeared to be popular with everybody in school. I’d actually wait in anticipation for her to come along, and if she didn’t: darn if I didn’t miss seeing her.
She looked like a soft rabbit, and those big eyes Betty Davis eyes, a little beauty, without a name. I hadn’t thought positive about any girl in particular at Washington High, except I could have thought positive about her, and I was dating a girl from Johnson High School on the East Side of town, an Italian, nice looking gal.
It looked to me, the day that girl started school, and passed by my post, turning right to enter the lunchroom, we connected eye to eye, once and forevermore, never to forget—; at least halfway down the hallway this eye contact started if not sooner, as if we were white on rice.
She appeared to be shy, but was she, perhaps I was? She was never by herself. Her head was always clumped with other heads. Not looking towards the lunchroom door at all, but at me, as if I was a window, and she was looking out of it, as I was looking in. It was as if I would kind of drift, towards her, never moving from the chair.
I never talked much back then, and didn’t realize she knew more about me than I knew about her.
I gave someone my yearbook that year to pass it around, because I knew in advance I’d be absent, and Gayle wrote in it “I Love you” but who was Gayle? I asked myself, and a few other kids, it was for the most part, someone who had no face for me, or recognition. And had I known it was Gayle with the Betty Davis eyes, well, I would have said, she wasn’t shy anymore, rather to the contrary. But guys are shyer than women, and when a woman wants you, they go after you, and if a hundred men are standing by willing to give life and limb, they’ll pass them up, take my word for it, time has proven that fact time and again.
Anyhow, I think I read “I love you,” too fast, not knowing the name, and she signed it properly, actually she sighed it as if she was on her way to being, Miss America, or Miss Wall Street! But it wasn’t that; I just didn’t know who was who together, had I, well I think life for me would have been a little different.
As I inferred, boys are different than girls, they know what they want, and a few friends said: she’s a sophomore, no she’s a freshman, yet I couldn’t put two and two together, nor could they, we could have made a good hoot together—if I was a seer looking back, and who knows what from there; I would have taken my pushchair in that hallway and there might have been a romance in the makings—who’s to say; but I didn’t bat an eye. It’s not that she wasn’t worth the time to investigate further, the thing is I didn’t take it serious, and to be frank I didn’t think she paid any real attention to me, and I was bad news for a good girl, and I knew it.
So we had our hallway romance.
But in 1994, evidently she reached the point where the boldness came to a head even stronger, and she called me up at work, and mind you that’s 29-years later. And I still couldn’t put two and two together. When she called me, I was not a married at the time, and she wanted to meet, and I had a few bad experiences in meeting with old female friends, so I declined. Hence, she said, “When you see me, you’ll know who I am!”
Had she said, “I’m the gal with the Betty Davis eyes,” the decline would have been a different story, I would have met her in a flash.
If she ever reads this, and I doubt she will, but if… she had no equal in Washington High, not in my eyes; God bless her soul.
Short Story No: 1000 (January 4, 5, 6, and 2014) / First Short Story for 2014 / For: Gayle Johnson
By Dennis L. Siluk, Dr. H.c. © 2014 “The Hallway Monitor” Shortened, revised, September, 15, 2014
Night at the Bar
((A Neighborhood Escapade) (1967))
The church steeple drifts off into the darkness. The trees in the adjacent cemetery, across Jackson Street, can only be seen by the fleeting headlights of cars. The mist whitens the trees. Everyone is at the corner bars, Bram’s or the Mount Airy. Chick Evens straightens up, takes out a cigarette, a light drizzle of rain fills the atmosphere, as he walks slowly up Sycamore Street, turns—sees the corner bars.
A few run-down looking busses, pass him, but are soon lost, once they turn the corner—he notices a few black faces on the bus, hateful, looking faces (perhaps it’s the times, he senses).
He hears voices coming from both bars, music is loud. He opens his eyes wider, leans his neck back, his belly is a little sour from the drunk he had the night before. A taxi goes by, stops in front of Bram’s, it looks like Nancy, David, Carol and Rockwater.
Now standing in-between the two doors of the Mt. Airy, he can hear the blind noisy street behind him. There are a few familiar faces in the bar, so he notices looking over the western style, swinging doors. He thinks it would have been better had he come later—more people, but he’s here now. He heads for the bathroom, urinates and combs his hair, washes his face. He’s been drinking half the day, up at Jerry Hino’s house, a half-mile past the church (he had been playing cards with Jerry and his brother Jim, and Mike Gulf, and Betty—Jerry’s wife, who had to feed the kids her kids as well as Jerry’s kids, so he decided to leave.)
He comes out of the bathroom, his light jacket laid over his arm, his friend Al Juneau is in one corner of the bar, he nods his head—I mean they both nod their heads for recognition of the other; he’s getting lit up, half drunk. Bill and his wife Judy are in a booth to his left, Bill had just come back from the war in Vietnam. John St. Clair is in another corner of the bar, his girlfriend is by herself at the bar opposite him. Big Ace, close to six-foot six inches tall (the neighborhood mannequin), no teeth,
ten-years everyone’s senior, or thereabout, not all that bright, is sitting
next to Doug, singing his weird song: “Twenty-four black birds baked in the
pie…” then he forgets the rest of the verse, he always does, and goes into a
humming episode, as if lost inside his own head—pert near dancing on his padded
stool, pounding on the bar with the palms of his hands, his feet kicking the
lower part of the bar some.
Doug and Ace are sitting in the middle of the horseshoe shaped bar, like most everyone else, drinking beer, it would seem a beer fest was going on; but it’s really a normal everyday thing, and on the weekends the only difference is they all get drunker. The bar is not much more than a dive: no, it is just that, a dive. Chick Evens feels a tinge lousy but knows with a few more beers he’ll not feel anything, anyway, that will fix him up. As he orders a beer, drinks it down, his headache disappears. He runs his hand over his forehead, as if to wipe the beer sweat off of it.
The worst thing for Evens is that he has spent all his money but a dollar, buying beer at Hino’s house. He is Not sure how he’ll get by tonight, but there is always someone to buy a fellow neighborhood buddy a beer or two or three…. He’s good for it he tells himself.
He hears Doug’s voice, far, far away—or so it seems, he’s dating Jackie, Evens’ old girlfriend. He now joins Bill and Judy, he knows he can borrow a few bucks from Bill if he has to, needs to. The side window has a light chunk of the moon showing, all around it is a dark sky, and he falls down—purposely, onto the soft cushion at the edge of the booth, by Judy.
This whole business of drinking night after night has made Evens thirsty. Bill notices Chick’s glass of beer is empty. Bill says—in a wholehearted way, “Come on let’s get another round,” he is smiling, waves the waitress over—
“As long as the glass is cold, and the beer is cold, I like it,” say Evens.
These two bars have been a place for the neighborhood boys to drink at —from the cradle to the grave (or for most of them it will be); they are drunks and they don’t even know it, at such a young age too. Chick is but nineteen-years old, Ace is twenty-nine, and Jackie is his age and Doug perhaps five years older, and Roger is Doug’s age, thereabouts (Bill will die before his 40th birthday—electrocuted; Roger at 65, or there about, Al Juneau at 63—in bath cases alcoholism will play a part in their deaths; Don in his early 40s from alcoholism; Jerry Hino in his mid-forties—a car transmission will fall and cave-in his chest; Dave in his mid-sixties from caner; Kathy S., Evens’ old girlfriend will die in ten-years or less, a car accident; Betty will die of alcoholism a short while after her husband, in her 40s; Lorimar at 66 of cancer), and on and on. From the looks of things—should a bystander take notes—the so called Donkeyland Neighborhood Gang, so named by the police, the Cayuga Street neighborhood, in essence, one would think they were all weaned from infancy to infinity at these two bars, on beer, wine and whiskey—and cigarettes.
Inside the Mt. Airy bar, is an inexorable dampness, grayness like a mist that lingers, it reeks (The Great Northern Railroad is down and under the Jackson Street Bridge—and just outside the bar, you can hear the trains coming and going sporadically. On the other side of the bridge are the warehouses). The jukebox is playing “I’m Sorry,” by Brenda Lee (Gunner’s song, whom is now becoming a truck driver, he was the one that likes to gun his car, especially his black 1940 Ford up and down Cayuga Street, racing his pal, Mouse, waking up the dead at the nearby Oakland Cemetery). Now the jukebox it was playing something by Jack Scott, Elvis of course will be playing soon, a half dozen times along with Ricky Nelson, and there after the Beatles—no one really cares for the Beatles all that much in Donkeyland, a group that’s been out a few years—Tom T. Hall is singing something called, PTA or is it something about old dogs and children, not sure. Most all the males in the bar have their shirtsleeves rolled up, past their elbows, some are chewing tobacco—a nosy veracious lot, but more under control than Bram’s across the street—over there, there is a pool table; some of the boys will shift bars later on, as determination, those in Bram’s—bumping into each other as they crisscross Jackson street to reach the other waterhole.
The waitress is in her forties, has a shabby apron on, the Italian owner is her lover, he’s married, but after they close up the bar, she settles down in his office with him, they’ll not leave until close to three o’clock in the morning.
The jukebox goes louder, a few folks are dancing. The bar is filling up, with smoke, multicolor white to pale faces, Native American faces, copper color faces, one Mexican, no blacks or Asians.
Armpits are starting to smell like old rotting fish. Bill hands Evens his beer, Fran, the waitress, just brought it over.
“Shut the door,” a voice yells, “you’re leaving in the flies!”
That was Larry and his wife Jeannie who had come through the swinging doors. There’s an empty booth alongside Evens’, they grab it, everyone shaking hands or hugging one another, as if they hadn’t seen one another for ages, and ages in these two bars are simply days.
“Two bottles of beer,” says Larry, he likes bottle beer, as does his wife, she’s Native American, like Jackie her sister, and John St. Clair, their brother.
The neighborhood factory, “Structural Steel,” its second shift is letting out now, and Jack T, and Danny Knight (in due time Danny will go up for murder charges) the Crazy man (pleasingly plump), so he is known—are now walking through the bar door, Jack is now going with one of Chick’s old girlfriends, a Mexican. Bunches of the neighborhood boys still work at the factory, for most all of them have at one time or another. Old Charlie, even got Evens a job there once, and then Charlie retired, he was Mexican, the only one in the neighborhood.
Now there are more people in the bar, and the fish like smell is becoming undecipherable, it weakens the stomach although, nauseates it.
“What a sickening job,” says a voice, it seems to come from the area where John L is sitting, and his girlfriend Karin. John L, had traveled to California with Evens recently, as Jerry Hino had a year back, went to Omaha, Nebraska, with Evens, and Ace’s brother Keith, had went to Seattle with him; all wanting to rush back to the neighborhood but—but Evens.
The only relief from the squeezing smells in the bar—if you are not totally drunk—is to leave the bar for fresh air, so, Evens picks himself up, excuses himself, he hears the collective voices, the motors and horns coming as he opens the bar doors, that faces Sycamore and Jackson Streets. His ears clear out all the deformed thick noises. His memory fades from all the prominent cheekbones, dead looking, red-eyed drunks, all those drowsy looking bodies that had clustered around him, and everyone else.
He lights up his 40th cigarette for the day and night, he’s working on 60. He sees the accumulated garbage along the side of the bar, in the street. The music from the bar jukebox mingles with the live band across the street. He sees Sonny playing the guitar (Sonny had taught him a thing or two about finger picking, in his younger days: and that’s not all that long ago. He also played for a short while with one of the national Country, Rock and Roll bands)
The door to Bram’s is wide open, he can see his older brother Mike, drunker than a skunk, sitting at the bar—his elbows leaning on the bar, his back to him. He throws the butt onto the sidewalk, buries it under his heel. He had sucked it down to half an inch, a Lucky Strike.
He thinks: why don’t I leave, and never come back?
He thinks: I have dreams, other than drinking myself to death here in these two dives. I want to go to San Francisco. (But he really wants to travel the whole world, and get a college degree, and write poetry, and books but he doesn’t say this—nor does he quite understand his wants and needs to survive in this world, because he’s from this neighborhood and people would think he’s insane to bring such delusions to surface, and can such things really be possible? I mean, are these dreams not for other folks, not like him, folks you read about, or see on television, not really for folks like him; but only time will tell. He senses something, and thus, unknowingly, perhaps he’s willing to wait and willing it to be, even if it takes a life time. He doesn’t know all this remember; only I do—now looking back. He’d like a home by the ocean and one in the mountains, this too seems to come out of the movies, perhaps he can follow his dream and make it come true. Between you and me, he makes it come true, or should I say, the Holy-One listening to him…)
He watches the circle of foam from a pitcher of beer being carried to a table of five people at Bram’s; he sees an old man vomiting alongside the bar. He sees cars in the parking lot disappearing into the night under a gibbous moon.
He thinks: We’re all frightened to go away—to leave forever this neighborhood; constrained by our minds. Defeated before we’ve even tested life; and then we grow old. A thousand times we say: if only. These are not really his words, he doesn’t even know such words yet, but if he could say them, he would have.
The music on the jukebox is playing a sad song, “Lonely Street,” by Ricky Nelson, that’s Chick’s song, and Bill likes it, they’ve played guitars together, ever since they were fifteen years old, in Bill’s basement, they were going to start a band up, called: “The Blue Dreamers,” they figured out the name together, but never did; they practiced Karate in Bill’s backyard together, Chick being the instructor—
His world grows quiet, more intense—he looks inside the bar, stinking armpit smells, and more beer being passed from one hand to another: garbage on the floor, smoky clouds from cigarettes are settling overhead like cobwebs throughout the bar, the same images every night—this weekend night is no different.
This bar is a can of worms, he tells himself, a brain twister, but he walks back inside: as if it were home; although he doesn’t say that, but if he listens to his second self—the voice of the mind, he’ll know the truth, and the truth is, it’s not home (although the devil would like him to think so), it’s just a dive, and that he will have to learn quick, because time is concentrated in the moment; and life is short at best: and dreams do come true if you activate them—follow them, do the work, write out a plan in your head, and if you do not have one, then surely it will never materialize; prayer without a plan is dead, only if you work the dream and follow it grab the opportunities on the way will it come to pass: will he pick up on this? The sooner the better!
No: 631 (12-11-2010) /Also, in memory of my old friend Al Juneau (died, 2011/63-years old)/ an Old Donkeyland Friend and Father Washington
Night Train to San Francisco
(A Neighborhood Escapade)(1968))
San Francisco, 1968
When I went to San Francisco I put my leather-bound suitcase under the backseat of where I sat on the train, and looked out the side window. I couldn’t afford a berth; it was three times the amount of the economy coach ticket. And back in the summer of 1968, when I was but twenty-years old, it didn’t make a difference: I kicked my shoes off, and as night come quickly, I couldn’t see much anyway. I tossed my black Swede jacket over me—over my shoulders, took a newspaper I found lying on the open seat next to me, turned on the overhead light and read the headlines, and scanned the front page.
“Turn off the light,” said the porter, “Everyone’s trying to get some sleep.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to. I’m not sleepy, Mister!”
“Well, I guess so,” he said, adding “we’ll be stopping in a few hours if you want to get off the train and stretch your feet for ten-minutes…” then he looked down at my feet, “you should put your shoes on,” he grumbled.
“No,” I said, “I’ll not put them out in the aisle, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He simply turned his head and walked away.
I got up and went to the washroom, washed my face: I wasn’t tired; I walked about the train—although dimly lit in all compartments. (It was my second train ride I had taken; the first being coming back from Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota a year earlier where I had visited the city for a short while)— A few of the windows were left slightly open and the night summer’s air came in cool. The moon was like a big white button in the sky. There were lights in the distance that blurred as the iron horse, as they often referred to it in the cowboy moves, raced onward.
We angled into Chicago, but before I could see its tall buildings, we were on the outskirts. I looked out the window to see the windy city but all I could see were railroad yards and freight cars lined up to kingdom-come. Then suddenly we stopped—a dead stop, the porter came by again, “If you need cigarettes or anything, there’s a stand outside on the platform, be quick about it though,” he said and I jumped up, crawled out from behind the two seats and onto the aisle, and then onto the landing area of the train station.
“Where are we?” I asked the owner of a stand, that was selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes and warm quart beer, on the pier.
“Outside of Chicago, why?” he asked.
“No reason, give me a quart of beer.” I said.
“Will Hamm’s do?” he questioned.
“Yaw, how much?”
“$1.25 plus tax,” he quoted.
I paid the fellow, then the train started to move, and I found myself running to just make the train, jumping onto its metal step with one hand on the beer and the other on the railing. And there I stood in-between the two cars, and drank the quart of beer down whole within a matter of minutes. Found a trash can, throw the empty bottle in it and went back to my original seat. An old lady was sitting in the seat next to mine, and I moved on over and around her, to the window side and fell to sleep. When I woke up the train had stopped again, we were someplace high up, it was cold and when I moved my jacket, the old lady pulled her arm back, as if it was searching for something, where it didn’t belong. I gave her a nasty look, one that perhaps said: it wasn’t safe for her anymore here, and when I’d come back she’d be gone.
“We’re going through cold country,” said the porter. We were in the mountains now. I put on my jacket, my shoes and reached under my seat to check if my suitcase was still there, it was, thus, I moved out to find another quart of beer, rushing from one vender to another, then finding a little store on the pier, that was connected to the inside station and halfway out onto the platform. And I could feel the cool air in my lungs, I let a Luck Strike, and walked into the store casual like, knowing I was only twenty-years old, still not old enough to drink, or buy alcohol, but I usually didn’t have a problem with that. Hence, I walked inside the small store, two Negros were sitting about on wooden stools, their shoeshine box in front of them “You-all wants a shoeshine boy?” asked the Negro with the black and yellowish front buck teeth extending through his open mouth.
“No, just a quart of beer,” I rambled.
The storekeeper was asleep behind the counter in the corner, his head against a cushioned pillow.
“Hay, Ollie, wake up, yous got a customer,” said the middle-aged Negro with the black teeth. When he smiled he opened up his mouth wider showing off his damaged gums, and spit into a spittoon, the tobacco he was chewing was blacker than his teeth, his eyes were as red as Marilyn Monroe’s lips; his head was the shape of a football, he was wearing a brown fitted, knitted cap, and his ears looked to be the cauliflower type, as if he was at one time a boxer, perhaps forty-five, the other fellow was sleeping on his forearms and knees, back bent.
I went back to my seat on the train and she was gone altogether with her things, and so I drank the six-pack of beer without fret. And fell to sleep sometime between the fourth and fifth beer, because when I woke up, there were two half cans of beer on the floor and one full one in my lap. I found my way back to the washroom carefully, as not to wake up the few folks still sleeping. The bathroom now smelled vulgar, pee and vomit were all over the seats, and no toilet paper.
Thereafter, I could smell the breakfast seep all the way down from the dining car, three cars up. I looked out the window at the countryside; it was now flat, not mountainous like before. It was forty-shades of green, and lots and lots of telephone poles, and fine looking horses grazing, small hills, patches of wooded areas here and there. Seeing all this appeared as if I had never left Minnesota (perhaps I was in Montana, who’s to say), except there were no cornfields, not one, but it was nice looking country anyhow.
No: 640 (6-23-2010) Notes: These short stories were written between January of 2010, and February of 2012 (in a 25-month period). The story numbers are between #631 and #879 (as you may well know if you’ve read the author before, the author numbers his poems and short stories: the first one being “The Little Russian Twins,’ written in 1981, and the most recent, “Distraught” number, 3879, written: 2-29-2012.
A Brawl at Bram’s
((A Neighborhood Escapade) (1972))
Bar Folks at Bram’s drinking and thinking…
I shall now inform our readers of an event which had brought a brawl into the Mouse Trap, that is the neighborhood bar called ‘Bram’s’ back around 1972. I had come fresh out of the war in Vietnam, Larry the boxer, Jennie now his wife, Karin, John L’s wife to be, we were all sitting in a bar booth when it took place. You must keep in mind, this is simply one of many brawls that took place back then in that corner bar. I was perhaps twenty-five years old at the time. Larry being several years my senior, and Jennie a year older than me, and Karin a year younger than me, and John, my age.
John L., whom I had went to California with, prior to going into the Army, in 1967—thereabouts—came through the front door of the tavern, who drank a lot at the time, and had a few other bad habits, like Johnny Cash in his younger day, if you get the drift, whom he and I ended up in Las Vegas, in ’67, for less than 24-hours, thereabouts, I had to pull, I mean hug and pull like a mule driver, him out of the casino, lest he be brought up for charges by the casino officer who asked “Is he on some dope? Its life in prison for that kind of fellow here!” I said, “No officer, he’s just a happy go lucky sort of fella who won some money, and we had a long drive from Southern California and we’re headed back to Minnesota, he’s bushed out tired.” The officer looks at his winnings still sitting in the one-arm-bandit’s mouth, and says, “Sure, all fifteen-cents of his winnings, get him out of here before I call the real police.” So need I bear out his reputation anymore for back in those late 1960s, it was irrefutable!
Well the early 1970s were not much different, John came through the door like gangbusters at Bram’s, a hooting and hollering as if he was back in Las Vegas at that same casino and won that same fifteen-cents, thinking he won $1400-dollars, as if he won anything, he was as if on a chariot race, and behind him was a good many Hell’s Outcast, a notorious Minnesota motorcycle gang, and he looked like Lee Marvin in “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance,” riding sideways drunk on his horse shooting up the town. When something like this happens, it is wise not to take anything for granted, and this night John and his companions were drunker than a skunk, he was over-positive, obstinate, and egotistic. Not unusual for a drunk, any drunk. Although I was a little more reserved in my drinking behavior, but I was a drunk nonetheless, myself. We all handle drinking, a little differently, when we get a little too much. Other than that, John was a great fellow, the life of the party you might say, and he could be the death of it too. And he would back you up if need be. He was a man also with more than one string to his elbow, if you know what I mean, but mum lest I reveal too much.
As for myself, patience, a blow delayed is not a blow lost.
Their dress, their manners all announced that they were looking to cause trouble. John wild-eyed, red faced, cockeyed drunk, all restless, with perhaps several of the gang members if not more, all in the same disorder—
The barkeep, held a disturbed countenance. It might be judged some powerful notion had had them come here. Larry, Jennie, myself, and Karin viewed them with increasing curiosity. As did Big Bopper, and Don G., and Gunner, and Rick G., were at the bar, as did the barkeep now startled by their full appearance, and in general surprise, said with impatience, “Leave, I’ve just alerted the police of your presence, they’ll be here in the next ten- minutes.”
“We just came to drink,” said John, in a slurred and hoarse voice.
“You’re already wasted,” said the barkeep, to John “get out of here!”
Larry and I, and the two gals were flatted by their rudeness and manners, John came towards our booth, perhaps fifteen-feet away, leaned his arm on a chair, picking it up, threw it at me, I blocked it with my forearm, gave him a grin. And then all around us, bottles started flying, and chairs, and tables were turned over, glasses broke, glasses flying. With a toss of her head, Karin apologized for John’s actions, the chair could have hit her right in the face, had I not blocked it, and had I simply ducked. But I knew that, and endured a bruised forearm for a week.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing,” said Karin. Which was of course obvious, or was she wrong?
The reader may ask, what kind of friend was this John with such an atmosphere, in this case, towards me. Well I can describe him, he was my age, a little heftier, perhaps more charming, more wild when drinking, more daring when drunk, I was more serious, more earmarked in my drinking, back in those days than John, and a neighborhood hooligan with a more tempered character in that I didn’t fight unless burdened to having to fight and then it was all or nothing, and perhaps at that moment he remembered I had beaten up his cousin—which was all or nothing, who tried to rape a girl, and he ended up in the hospital, and his mother blamed me for excessive force in stopping the rape in progress. Well, enough said on that, be that as it may, it was a long time ago, and that fellow I met in 1985, still cursed me for that beating, never mentioning his own tragedy in the makings, and him using excessive force over the girl, whom we shall call, Sandy, her rape that was stopped, and her parents called me up, thanking me for stopping it. I do hope the Lord overlooks that incident and a few more, but we are all guilty of such unreasonable arrogant circumstances, at one time or another.
But as I was about to say, this is exactly, how the boys, now men of Donkeyland reacted. John then stumbled over to our booth, to greet us, saying, “Woops, I thought you were someone else…!” And that might be true of this matter, perhaps I looked like diablo, and he threw the chair thinking this, but I doubt it, yet Karin was concerned. And I never held a grudge. Once John and I were in a small town in California, and we were down with money, only having enough for a cheap hotel room, where thereafter, having only $1.35 cents left, my car’s motor blew a piston, and we had to parked it behind some gas station, and I told John I wanted to buy a quart bottle of beer, and cheese crackers, and he said, “You’re local, that is all we have!” And I countered with, “Then let’s get drunk,” and John said, “Two people can’t get drunk on one quart of beer, you take it, and I’ll eat some of the crackers, also, save a dime for the phone please!” So you see, John was on one side of him was a fine friend, on the other, local like me, but in a different more wild way; I think I was more calm on matters, he jumped the gun more often than not. And I do not want to go on with this, it is another story already written in a book called “Men with Torrent Women,” as is the story of my dear friend, “Jerry Hino,” whom went to Omaha, Nebraska, back in 1967 with me, and his wife Betty came a hunting for him, and brought him back home, I lived with Jerry for six-weeks thereafter, trying to get a job and back on my feet, Jerry now has passed on. Anyhow let me go on with the original story.
The door of the tavern was left open and a number of police dashed into the room, others were outside checking cars for John, he was the number one enemy for the police this evening, and they were creating a dragnet all around the bar and across the Jackson Street Bridge. Larry and I, along with Jennie and Karin, we all kind of grabbed John, took advantage of the tumult in the bar, advanced to the backdoor, saw a taxi, flagged him down, jumped into the backseat, Larry up in the front, and I told the driver to get moving, beat-feet: but just then a policeman stopped us, told me to roll down the window, and I pushed John to the floor, kept my foot on his back, and Karin told him to be quiet, “Have any of you seen John L?” asked the policeman.
“Yaw,” I said, he’s in the back getting into one of those cars,” we were now on the side of the bar. He gestured to an officer friend rapidly to check the other cars leaving the bar’s parking lot, and turned his full attention in that direction, and we zoom off making our escape. And to my understanding, the police lost all trace of John at the bar and thereabouts, of those obscure streets.
No: 1088/ 6-22-2015
For Jerry H., and Jim H., (deceased); John L., and Larry L., and Karin and Jennie
And Gunner (alive and briskly); and Big Bopper (deceased)…