Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Monday, May 23, 2016



Cover photography: Marcia Ward

All Shook Up

as always for Marcia

JW McCullough was one of those rare creatures that had been given, without asking for it, a second chance in life. 

After a tour in Viet Nam in the Merchant Marines, JW returned to the Philadelphia area (he was born in Vineland New Jersey) and became a performing artist, playing guitar in rock and roll bands and in an Elvis Impersonator band. His favorite guitar riff, he told me, was the one he scored for the Impersonator Band’s rendition of “All Shook Up.” He also took up creating antics as performance art. Sometimes poetic often comedic his skits caught the eye of a producer in Philadelphia who was able to hook JW up with a slot on a soon to launch NBC TV show called Saturday Night Live. Three producers – one from Philly, one from Chicago, and one from New York - were cooking up this skit-centered take on comedy. A month before production was to begin, however, Chicago and New York conspired to dump Philadelphia and, consequently JW lost his chance.  On the brink of standing in the national spotlight and now back in the Philadelphia dark, JW had a melt down and attempted suicide by overdosing on alcohol and pills. He had since Nam been somewhat depressed; the VA eventually told him he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, a result of transporting munitions from America and transferring them to destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Viet Nam War. He did not die, however, as his producer found him and Hahnemann Hospital pumped his stomach clean. Thus that second chance I mentioned earlier. For the rest of his life JW had a perspective on life quite different from everyone else’s. If you’ve given up the ghost and are somehow brought back to life, you see things differently. And JW saw the world as his stage for the next bitter-sweet sixteen years.

I met JW at Jerry Record’s on Colfax when I was making my first feature movieo Sylvia and The Green Bird in 1984. I was showing John Loquidis, the proprietor of Jerry’s Records, some preliminary footage I had shot of Loquidis’ girlfriend, Juliet Johnson, in the role of Sylvia. JW was hanging around the counter and he looked over my shoulder at my camera’s viewfinder and announced, “If you’re making a movie I want in.” Picking up on his Philly accent and sensing a kinship because of it, and digging his attire – JW dressed with more flair than most rock stars (he was wearing striped pants, turquoise painted penny loafers sporting Gold Coin Saloon tokens where the pennies would have been, an embroidered baseball cap depicting an elephant, and a collarless paisley button up shirt (the buttons also were painted turquoise) – I said, “Sure.” And thus began our ten year friendship as JW and I went on to finish my movie together – he as actor, co-producer, and singer. In the process, he became the brother I never had and godfather to my youngest son, Zenith Star.

JW’s most lucrative “job,” his means of acquiring money was to participate in drug studies, mostly back in Philadelphia, and he split his time between Denver and Philly, often staying with my family for short stints. We got along well, although I did come to realize JW was a closet alcoholic after finding sundry empty pints and half pints of exotic whiskies left about my house. John admitted to me his serious predilection, claiming, however, he was clean seventy-five percent of the time. “My binges last about a week,” he said. He also told me he never had a drink in his life until at age twenty-five he heard the word mimosa, and liking the sound of it, he ordered one. Then another. Then another. And the next day he went to a liquor store and bought a half dozen pints of assorted whiskies and rums thus beginning his see-saw life-long battle with John Barleycorn which he used to self medicate his manic depressive condition. If truth be told, his drinking never really impacted our relationship. I’d had alcoholic friends before, hell, my father was one, and you take a brother as he is; still, I’d have preferred him sober. And I was always glad to have a companion whenever he returned from his participation in lock-down experimental drug studies back East. JW’s justification for taking such risks was that “You get a placebo half the time; so it’s only half-dangerous.”

After release from a drug study in 1988, he was clean and sober and met up with a performing artist by the name of Vesna. Soon he and Vesna became a couple and an act, presenting what they called “The Butterboat Show.” They wowed the underground South Street art scene in Philadelphia and even won a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant to take their Butterboat Show on the road, eventually winding up in Florida.  As I learned later (like last month after re-connecting with Vesna on Facebook) Vesna had wanted to end things with JW (too manic and controlling and isolating, she said) but he had followed her to Florida. You might say he stalked her to St. Petersburg. But because he was unable to rekindle anything with Vesna, he again took up with his other love, alcohol. During his six month passionate affair with booze in Florida he sent me dozens of incredibly sophisticated addressed letters filled with manic yet comedic poems and rambling paeans to his artistic heroes, Prince and Elvis Costello. Even my taciturn mailman remarked that he loved delivering my mail as he got to handle the art objects that were JW’s envelopes. “Who is this guy? Whoever he is, tell him I’m a fan.”

And then one day JW appeared in the elevator door of my loft, drunker than I’d ever seen him, asking if he could stay with me until he got sober. The loft I lived in had a glass wall as the second floor of 1444 Wazee Street had once been the corporate headquarters of Fashion Bar. JW was so out of it he stepped off the elevator, walked into my living area and then into the glass wall with such inebriated recklessness that he knocked himself out. He stayed a week, secluded in my loft, fighting withdraw and depression before returning to the world mostly clean and sober. He had enough bread left from his last drug study to pay a month’s rent at the Newhouse Hotel at Grant and Colfax around the corner from Jerry’s Records. He painted his room to match the color of his turquoise shoes that matched the color of his newly acquired pawn shop electric guitar. During his last months in Denver he took up antics as performance art again, but his performances were more in the real world than on stage. Once, as he told me - “to give downtown workers an unexpected holiday in the middle of the week,” - he super-glued the locks of dozens of office buildings on the 16th Street mall. Awarded to Anonymous, his stunt received the “Best Prank of the Year" award from WESTWORD. JW got away with his prank despite being videotaped by multiple security cameras as his disguise included a wig and a dress and a slinky put-on sashay to beat the band. Eventually, however, he decided to – as he told me - “give Hollywood a chance” and he moved to LA.

JW’s second – and in this case successful suicide attempt – was his final piece of performance art. It unfolded over the course of a week. After the June 28, 1992 Landers earthquake rattled Los Angeles, JW left a phone message for me on my answering machine: “Ed, I’m drinking again! Been sober the last year but this is just too much! Really, I’m all shook up and feelin’ whiskey deprived! By the way, did I tell you I’ve finally made it: my name’s in the Hollywood phone book!” When he did reach me a day later we had a three hour long distance phone call in which he manic-ed his way about dozens of topics, alluding to many reckless behaviors, that shall remain unmentioned, he had taken up. He also told me how he had called everyone he knew long distance as he wanted to create the largest unpaid telephone bill in the history of Ma Bell. I missed the innuendo and didn’t get the hidden meaning of “unpaid.”

Now, I had visited JW three months before the quake and he had been his normal prankster self, living in a “residential” low rent Hollywood hotel, doing performance art (guitar and poetry) at assorted bars and galleries and at midnight on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. We made the rounds of LA friends I had turned JW on to: Tony Scibella, Marsha Getzler, SA Griffin and Frank T. Rios. JW had wanted to visit my ex-wife with whom I had hooked him up, but when I called Carol to set up a meet, she told me, "You can come alone, but don’t bring that man anywhere near me,” as JW had apparently worn out his welcome at Carol’s Beverly Hills Film Production headquarters. At the time of my visit, the sober JW had a cassette recorder, a guitar, an iron, a manual typewriter, and sundry wild “outfits.” When I said “Later, man” to him in early April, little did I know it would be the last time I would speak to him in person.

Anyway, after the Landers quake, JW scrambled to accomplish a few items on his bucket list of antics. First he convinced SA Griffin, a successful Hollywood actor and poet, to rent a brand new Cadillac convertible. JW wanted to superstar it around Los Angeles and they did. SA had always enjoyed being a wheelman – his performance art troupe was called the Carmabums - and together they toured for some six hours or so, top down with Elvis Costello tapes blasting on the stereo. JW honked and waved to all the street artists and street people he had befriended. A night later, JW called a local national public radio station that was hosting its annual fund drive. JW told the hosts, two comedian DJs pleading for money, that he was one hell of guitar player and he would give the radio station $100 every time they mentioned “the guitar player, JW McCullough.” Well, the comedians ran with it, and over the course of the next half hour they worked the phrase -“the guitar player, JW McCullough” - into their spiel some fifty or sixty times. JW recorded what ensued on the radio with a cassette tape recorder and mailed me the tape that I’d characterize as the funniest radio bit I’ve ever heard. Sadly, I received this comedic masterpiece two days after SA called to let me know that JW had committed suicide. Apparently, JW, who had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder for over twenty years, had stock piled a years worth of assorted medications the VA had given him. He cured his anxiety and manic depression once and for all, by washing down handfuls of pills with sweet aperitifs and rum. Believe you me, the guitar player JW McCullough, his choice to end it all, and the performance art it was, shook me up as much as the earthquake shook LA. The final riff, the last twitch of his fingers most likely accompanied the thought: “I’m all shook up, hey hey. I’m all shook up.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Cover Photo: Marcia Ward


As always, for Marcia

When I was a child attending Saint Bernard’s Catholic Elementary School, I was teacher’s pet eight years in a row. I’m sure it had something to do with my desire to please my mother and therefore every woman with whom I came in contact (like the nuns and female lay teachers) as well as my intellect, politeness, curly hair, and long lash-laden bright blue-green eyes. And every nun would tell me at some point in the year that I ought to become a priest. Similarly when I went to Saint Joseph’s Preparatory High School, a Jesuit school, my Latin teacher said the same thing. Well as much as I would have liked to please my devout Catholic mother who would have loved having a priest as a son, I told all those with clerical designs on my future: “Hell no! I’m going to marry and have kids,” – a politically correct way of informing them that I was not about to be celibate. Still, I must admit that I had great love of ritual, both secular and religious: taking the field for a football game and the coin toss (as captain I always choose heads) and Sunday Mass, to name an example of each. And as you’ll see, sometimes, if fate is kind, one can have it both ways.

In 1979 when I married Marcia Zimmer in my Pearl Street back yard, my publisher, Larry Lake of BOWERY PRESS served as our officiant. It was a most unique ceremony in that Marcia and I both wrote love letters to each other that we shared aloud, I wore no shirt, poems were read and burned in a silver bowl, and the beard that Larry sported was the antithesis of the clean cut looks of my Lutheran in-laws from Wyoming. Photos from that day capture the utter dismay of my father-in-law, an extremely conservative Republican Wyoming State Senator. In fact, I’m not sure he ever got over me, an East Coast city boy who he considered to be “anti-establishment.” After all, I did have friends of diverse races and sexual orientation, I came from a union family, I was a writer making ends meet as a waiter, and my long curly locks were always a little too unkempt, too much, for the wind that is Wyoming.

One result of my wedding ceremony was that a few years later while living in Austin Texas, I mentioned in a phone call to Larry that I, too, had a desire to write and conduct rituals as a witch friend and her fiancé wanted me to assist with their wedding ceremony. And then a few months later in the mail, I received the second most cherished document of my life, my ordination papers, - the first being my marriage license signed by Marcia, me, Lenny Cernila, Barbara Timmons and Larry Lake who listed his title as Poet Priest. Apparently upon Larry’s recommendation and nomination, I had been ordained as a Minister in the Temple of Man by the founder of the Temple of Man, Robert Alexander, who went by the name of Baza. Literally, my Ordination means worlds more than getting paychecks, being published, graduating from Drexel University or receiving awards for community service or poetry.

Today, because I write and conduct some sixty or so marriage ceremonies a year, I am often queried about the nature of my ministry as my ceremonies are like no other: did you get ordained on line? Are you a “Universal Life” minister? Where did you study? How did you become a minister?

Well, the Temple of Man, to put it plainly is probably the hippest religious organization in the world. This is its story as I know it.

In 1960 a rather gifted and notorious poet by the name of Stuart Z. Perkoff was recorded during the FBI’s first successful use of a reel-to-reel tape recorder selling marijuana to a friend. A suction cup microphone with a wire leading to a tape recorder had been affixed to the window of his pad. Because Stuart was becoming an (albeit reluctant) anti-establishment icon in America, he was just too revolutionary, too dangerous as a role model, for the likes of J Edgar Hoover. Perkoff was the protagonist hero - perhaps anti-hero – of Larry Lipton’s 1959 novel, The Holy Barbarians – one of the first novels about beatniks, the publication of which incited tour bus loads of lookie-lous hoping to encounter beatniks to park in front of Café West, the coffeehouse that Stuart had founded. Café West was the LA gathering spot for those seeking a life outside the material world of 50s’ America. To avoid the throngs of tourists hoping to spy on the underground, Stuart and his friend Tony Scibella used to hide on the rooftops of nearby buildings whenever the masses invaded what had once been the quiet destitute seaside village of Venice, a place they had hoped would serve as a low-rent Mecca of sorts for those seeking a lifestyle outside the norm, a higher consciousness based on art and love. Stuart had appeared as himself, a beatnik poet, on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, accompanied by a beautiful and extremely tall Las Vegas showgirl (with close to a foot of teased hair atop her head she seemed twice as tall as Stuart with his shaved head). Throughout the broadcast, Stuart’s quick wit charmed Groucho and everyone in America watching the nationally syndicated TV show. When Groucho first began interviewing Stuart, Groucho referenced his notes: “Mr. Perkoff, it says here that you are a writer,” to which Stuart replied, “Oh yes, Groucho, I write home for money every week!” And the quick repartee and quick-witted banter continued for the duration of the show. Groucho was so charmed by Stuart that he became a silent patron of sorts, encouraging and supporting the establishment of The Gas House in Venice, a rent-free artist community where those who resided had only to keep making art to maintain their residency. But, as I mentioned earlier, the unwanted fame that came Stuart’s way brought the FBI spotlight and tape recorder to bear on Stuart and his friends and he wound up being incarcerated for years in the Penitentiary at Terminal Island where some other notorious criminals like Al Capone and Timothy Leary once resided, a bitter example of a most unsuitable punishment for a non-violent offense, an act now perfectly legal.

One day a friend of Stuart’s, the artist/poet/printer Robert Alexander, visited the prison but was told that visitors - other than family (father, son, brother, wife, etc) or chaplains - were not allowed. And so for this very pragmatic reason - among other less pragmatic reasons such as his interest in art, poetry, community and ritual - Baza founded The Temple of Man in 1960, a non-profit religious organization. To visit an incarcerated friend. The Temple of Man’s 1967 California incorporation papers state:

 “The Temple of Man is formed in dedication to the sentient individual, creative man, and for the preservation of his creative works, in order to help broaden perception and increase the understanding between all men everywhere, who, being unified by the supreme force of life, are working toward a higher social and spiritual evolution.” “It is not worship so much as a quest,” the statement goes on. “It is a way of becoming, of liberation.” Two of the most well known “tenets” of “The Temple of Man are that Art Is Love Is God,” the words of the artist Wallace Berman that Stuart Perkoff wrote upon the wall of his Café West coffeehouse, and that “The Temple of Man is Within,” something the poet David Meltzer appropriated from the Bible.

I happened to meet Baza in the late Seventies when I traveled to California to retrieve a dog I once loved and used to own that was facing euthanasia. I had been involved with the celebrated poet James Ryan Morris during the last months of his life in Denver and Jimmy’s wife Diana, upon hearing of my plans to go to LA to rescue a dog, had suggested that I visit Jimmy’s good friend Bob in Venice. At the time my knowledge of The Temple of Man, the once famous beatnik scene that was Venice, and of Robert Alexander’s status as a great American artist (Baza’s artwork, publications, and personal letters are in the Smithsonian) were zilch. It was a meeting that changed my life.

I remember being almost afraid of ringing the bell outside the gate of Baza’s home, for I knew not what I’d find. Having known what Jimmy Morris had been into, his predilections, I feared I might be interrupting an orgy or walking into a shooting gallery. But what I found was a beach house full of assemblage art, paintings, collage, sculpture and published writings; and an artist who welcomed me as a brother, “Do you and Marcia need a place to stay?” offering me refuge from the world I felt so alienated from, 1978 America. My afternoon with Baza truly opened my eyes to the magic of personal art and reassured me that there were others like me, a notion instrumental in suffusing the loneliness, the Steppenwolf separateness that haunted me. For Baza was a father and husband as well as world-class artist. I got it that one does not have to be insane or an alcoholic or a drug addict to be an artist, as I mistakenly believed. One only had to love.

Toward the end of his life, Alexander wanted to open a cabaret space, as well as a serious museum and archive for the collection of Temple art and ephemera he’d amassed over the previous 25 years. Many of those artists were now gone, their names engraved in brass plaques attached to a shrine he built in his garden out of abandoned timbers from the old Ocean Park pier; the scraps of Venice’s past now buoying the dead of his clan: Stuart Perkoff, Ben Talbert, Artie Richer, Wallace Berman, Lenny Bruce, Dennis Hopper, Larry Lake. Someday my name will be there too.

So I believe you can have it all, that everybody gets what he or she wants. I became a celebrant of ritual, a poet priest, all because the FBI stung and jailed a celebrated poet and his good friend could not get in to visit. And I married and had kids.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Cover Photos & Artwork
Marcia Ward, TW Gaddy, Steve Wilson
Angelo diBenedetto, Rasta 68, Ed Ward
Michael Bergt & Jack Livingston

                     BEAT SHAPE

as always, for Marcia

Over the course of the last five years I’ve been tasked with the job of shedding light on the Bohemians of Denver, those, a mile high and underground, who have lived the life of artists. In 2010, I wrote an essay on the literary legacy of the Denver Beats for the Colorado Historical Society, lent my personal collection of Beat art and ephemera for an exhibition at The Byers-Evans House, and produced a show here at The Mercury Café, a celebration of all things underground entitled a Bohemian Extravaganza. In 2012 my story, Billy Burroughs Prediction’, was published in London’s, if not the world’s, premiere beat magazine, The Beat Scene. Earlier this year I was interviewed on the Medical Mary Jane Cable Network about my relationships to some of Denver’s most famous and sometimes most notorious Beat artists like James Ryan Morris, Angelo diBenedetto, Stan Brakhage, Larry Lake and others. I contributed info for a chapter on the Denver Beats for History Press’ THE DENVER BEAT SCENE by Zack Kopp. At the Neal Cassady Birthday Bash last February I got to entertain Cassady fans from near and far blowing my tale, No Going Back, a Cassady-esque tale of a wild blow job once received (a blow job being the fulcrum around which Neal’s famous 1950 23,000 word letter to Kerouac swung, a letter that prompted Jack to declare in a letter to Ed White (who designed the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at The Denver Botanic Gardens) that Denver’s own Neal Cassady was the greatest living writer in Europe and America, a mid-century correspondence that turned Jack on to a new way of writing. One result of appearing at the Cassady Birthday Bash upstairs at The Merc was that I was tapped to design a Beatnik Tour of Denver for an aspiring tour company. Late last spring, I gave a presentation on the Denver Beats to interested students at Colorado Academy (some of the suburban students were so enthralled they actually attended STORIES STORIES in the evening). Currently I am being filmed as the subject of a Gwylym Cano documentary wherein I narrate stories of poets and painters I have known. I mention all this to you not to brag but to justify my assertion that I am, these days, the delegated go-to-guy when the legacy of Denver Beats is the subject.

The somewhat ironic story that follows is the tale of how all-things-beatnik first infiltrated my Jesuit-Prep School-educated soul.

When I was nine years old, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road made the scene in bookstores all across the nation and gave birth to a cultural revolution. What it meant to be hip was newly defined. The year was 1957. On The Road didn’t find me, however, until 1965, and I must admit, I was not all that impressed when it was required reading in my senior year of high school. So, you might say that in 1957 Bohemians became Beatniks. Bores became squares. Espresso became Expresso because my good friend and mentor, Tony Scibella, spelled it that way when he painted the signage on the window of Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West Café in 1959, a scene that was central to Larry Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians, a tome that examined what it meant to be beat in Los Angeles. I met Tony Scibella almost twenty years after he painted EXPRESSO and eventually published his masterpiece THE KID IN AMERICA in 2000. 1959 also saw the arrival of Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver on the black and white TV screens of North America playing the roles of Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in the syndicated show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I watched the show in real time as it was broadcast and laughed my pre-adolescent ass off at the antics of the beatnik that was Maynard; I never forgot the way Maynard screeched “Work.” He was cooler than a pack of Kools or a micronite (aka asbestos) filter on a Kent cigarette. Speaking of Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, here’s a Hollywood Screen Actor’s Guild tidbit I learned from S.A. Griffin (an actor/poet friend of mine in LA – we met when SA came to Denver as the guest star bad guy on a Perry Mason movie of the week): no matter where one is in the world making a movie: if you’re looking to score some weed, just ask local cast members and crew if anyone belongs to Bob Denver Fan Club and soon you’ll be connected. Bob Denver obviously had an impact that went well beyond the four-year run of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Hell, filmed in China, SA once played General Matthew Ridgway for a CCTV (Chinese) TV series, and despite the repression and danger there, the on location Bob Denver Fan Club made sure that SA was not left wanting. In the late 90s, born of an egg my son Zenith Star won in a biology class raffle at East High, I even owned a pet duck, who lived four years in my backyard, named Doobie. Ok, that’s with two o’s instead of one; nonetheless, the allusion to Mr. Gillis is apparent! I mention these beat firsts and bohemian references in my life because in some ways the cultural revolution triggered by Kerouac’s On The Road incited one of the greatest shifts in American thinking ever, a shape-shift which reflected my own from Philly street tough to Colorado artist. Without the Beats there might never have been the peace movement that ensued, and we might still be watching the War in Vietnam on the six o’clock news, but I digress.

When I arrived in Denver in the mid-70s, a poet making the rounds of hipster hangouts, it was the Beatniks who remained who embraced me as a brother. Not the hippies, not the street poets, not the new technocrats, not the world of academia. It was the Beatniks: Larry Lake, Jimmy Ryan Morris, Tony Scibella, Gypsy (himself a minor character in On The Road), Lucy McGrath, and others. This family of like-minded hipsters took me in, adopted me as it were, despite the fact that I was beardless, had never thumped a bongo (or any musical instrument for that matter), did not know that Bird was Charlie Parker’s nickname, did not know the character of Dean Moriarty in On The Road was based on Denver’s own car thief, Neal Cassady, knew little of the artistic merit and history of the Beat movement in Denver or America, and found Kerouac wanting in comparison to my go-to hero, Bob Dylan. In fact my first introduction to things one might call Beat, has little to do with poetry and novels and abstract expressionism, and more to do with WWII, Nazi machine guns, two of my mother’s older brothers (she was one of thirteen siblings), American spies (both domestic and on foreign shores), and two of my older sisters, Carol and Ginny.

One evening in 1959 I was watching The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis when the phone rang. In those days people (especially a child like myself) actually answered a ringing phone. The caller was one of my many cousins on my mother’s side of the family, Jack Daly, the twenty-two year old son of a deceased uncle who died before I was born. Jack was calling from somewhere in Delaware and apparently Jack would be passing through Philadelphia, because he was, as it were, “On The Road,” with two friends and they were hoping to connect with my sisters, Carol and Ginny: maybe for drinks at a bar, a dance or skate at the local Roller rink, or coffee at The Gilded Cage, a Rittenhouse Square coffeehouse whose backroom stage served as the pulpit for all things beat and folk and left of center in Philadelphia. When Jack arrived with his pals an hour or so later, he sported the first goatee of my life. His pals, similarly unshaven, immediately took up flirting with my sisters, both of whom I like to say “were more beautiful than religion.” The three guys’ attempts to impress Carol and Ginny included humming some bee-bop jazz, showing off their fashion (turtlenecks and blue jeans) and their speech was peppered with phrases such as “Daddio,” “Dig it,” and “Craaazy!” Even square-ass Jack had the jive down pat and he had masked his slight Southern accent with his faux Beat linguistics. Faux, as you’ll come to understand, is the operative word here. Recently trained in the art of deception, these gentlemen from Alexandria Virginia had facial hair that was beatnik, they spoke like beatniks, they dressed like beatniks; but I knew better. For I knew Jack to be a highly trained member of the CIA, his professional family, as well as a member of my Irish Catholic one.

As I said my mother had many siblings, many brothers. Two, Jimmy and Vincent, had been in Army Intelligence during World War II. Vincent and Jimmy had parachuted behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, an act which cost Jimmy his life (one bullet through the heart while parachuting) and Vincent his appearance (strafed with machine gun fire he lived, but his body thereafter, its appearance was a horror of scar tissue). Luckily and with much stealth, the wounded Vincent escaped capture by the Nazis and recovered enough to fight along side of and become best of friends with a resistance fighter by the name of Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Yugoslavia Partisans. As you might recall, Tito eventually went on to rule Yugoslavia as a soft line communist (benevolent dictator, if you will) while keeping the Russian hard-line communists at bay for thirty years. Bosnians and Serbs went to war only after Tito died. Sometimes it takes a charismatic dictator to keep fundamentalist religious racists from slaughtering each other in fits of ethnic cleansing. Fact is: the only Americans Tito ever trusted or spoke with were my uncle Vincent and his nephew, my cousin Jack, who Vincent had later introduced to Tito. Trusted frenemies they were. After World War II, Vincent was a first round draft pick – if you will – for America’s newest three-letter team, the CIA. Both his children and his deceased brother’s children – a slew of my cousins (after all we are Irish) – all joined that same team because the original CIA was indeed a family affair. Posing as a Southern bumpkin with his wife, whose cover was being a trailer trash talking Virginia hillbilly redneck, my uncle Vincent traveled the world as a spy with gadgets James Bond and Hollywood never imagined. He’d wow us at thanksgiving dinners, demonstrating the sneaky uses of assorted spyware. My cousin Jack eventually traveled the world as an assistant to Assistant Ambassadors in numerous European capitols. His children living in so many European nations spoke a dizzying array of languages, great training for their CIA careers that followed. In fact when Tito (who was never allowed on American soil because of his communist politics) gave a speech in Toronto, it was my once fake beatnik cousin Jack standing next to him at the podium, making sure the Canadian translators got Tito’s speech right. All this, of course, came after Jack had served his time on the road as a clandestine operative spying on American civilians, which, to put it mildly, was well outside the scope of the CIA charter. Jack attended college for over a dozen years, wearing his hipster attitude, all the while spying and informing on his college contemporaries, fingering anyone wearing red or black or psychedelic colors. Chances were, if anyone at a student meeting or a peace rally or union drive was eating anything other than apple pie, Jack was taking their picture with one of those neat little gismos issued by the CIA. He’d click as he scratched his Vandyke goatee with his miniaturized camera that looked like a fountain pen. By the time Jack moved on to CIA roles in foreign embassies, the FBI, to keep us safe from ourselves, had taken over the reigns of illegally spying on American citizens for political reasons. Now we have newer letter teams spying on us: like NSA and TSA and others whose names we’ll never know.

All this just goes to prove how prophetic and insightful it was, what the king of LA Beat poets, Stuart Z Perkoff wrote in a poem he read on Denver Public Radio back in the early 70s, Stuart was actually on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE as a beatnik poet and endeared himself to Groucho and America when he quipped in answer to Grouch’s assertion that Groucho’s notes claimed that Stuart was a writer: “Groucho, I write home for money every week.” Stuart’s voice was also captured on an early FBI’s reel-to-reel tape-recording of a drug deal, a deal that netted Stuart hard time in a California prison. Stuart’s words:

                         our times are fast
                         they’re crowded
                         we’re crushed
                         we’re lost

                         mirrors are broken
                         i.d. cards torn
                         faces are stolen
                         disguises are worn

                         no order! all chaos!
                         all turmoil! no peace!
                         but we can rely on the secret police!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


No Going Back

as always, for Marcia

I arrive in Denver on the fourth day of July in 1975 after twenty-seven years of East Coast life. My girlfriend (let’s call her “Crazy”) had at the time wanted to experience Kerouac and Cassady’s “the West,” and so I had resigned from my life and tenured position in Jersey and moved here to accommodate her wishes. We found a second-floor one-bedroom apartment at 14th and Elizabeth and set about reinventing ourselves. I found work as a waiter making more money than I had as a teacher and commenced the life of a Bohemian, writing poetry and starting work on my “great American novel,” activities the time constraints of my career as a teacher and union organizer had precluded me from indulging in. I found great pleasure in my disassociation from all that been before and reveled in my newfound anonymity. Writing in long hand on the built in table of my walk-up apartment, such things as my teenage gang membership in Philadelphia, my degree in physics, and my tenure as a professional educator had little to do with this new life as an artist I was undertaking; quite aware I was that I would never return to the life I’d known before. Sadly my girlfriend embraced not the uncertainties of living in the West as an artist, and by October Crazy was in NYC, never to return.

During the time Crazy and I lived in our Congress Park pad on the second floor of the Elizabeth Arms, we were friendly with a couple that also lived there, Ric and Sandy. Ric was a folksinger and social worker and Sandy was, well Sandy was a wee bit strange, as strange as she was beautiful. Sandy and Crazy had been summer friends, a friendship based on the similarity of their childhoods and upbringing, and, in retrospect, their apparently fragile mental health. Both were sexy and exotic (Crazy was a Mediterranean beauty and Sandy was archetypal Aryan), and both women expected men to take care of the mundane matters of life – like making a living. Both had been raised by very wealthy parents who lived in gated and exclusive enclaves, Crazy in Wellesley Massachusetts and Sandy in the Bahamas. I especially enjoyed eyeballing Crazy and Sandy from my writing table window as they sat, late afternoons, on the front porch. My first fantasies of infidelity and “the other woman” were incited by the vision of the two of them, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, rocking side by side on the porch glider, comparing notes, and gossiping about Ric and me.

Shortly before Crazy abandoned me and left Colorado, I bought a house on Pearl Street and lost contact with Ric and Sandy. Crazy leaving me was brutal, for I was deeply in love with the woman I imagined she was, and I sought to numb my pain with alcohol and drugs. On my evenings off, I’d prowl Congress Park and Colfax Avenue – places we had loved - on foot or in my van in a nostalgic hunt for the ghost of Crazy, and one night I came across a bewildered Sandy outside the 7-11 on York Street around the corner from my old apartment. She lit up when she saw me, and the hug she gave me had a hint of sexual innuendo that was hard to ignore. She clung to me like a child clings to a favorite grandparent or a favorite toy. Like the lost to their savior.

I asked after Ric, and Sandy told me he was in a hospital in Thornton. Minor surgery had corrected a herniated disc but he’d be in recovery and physical therapy for another week. She asked after Crazy and her eyes got sparkly when I told her of my Ex’s return to the East Coast. I do believe she actually licked her lips with a serpentine tongue, as she appeared lost in thought. And then she asked if I’d give her a ride to the hospital sometime soon as she had not been able to visit Ric. Public transportation, its schedules and transfers, was beyond her ken.

So, with a wee bit of lust lurking in the shadows of my intentions, I arrive at my old apartment building the next morning. Sandy and Ric lived on the ground floor across the commons from where Crazy and I had lived, and she was waiting on the communal front porch. She bubbled with excitement as she flew the length of the walk and climbed into my van. All the way to Thornton she gossiped about Ric and his increasing demands on her abilities. She practically hissed a litany of things that needed redress. Did Ric actually expected to return home to an organized apartment, one without dirty dishes and piles of laundry? Did he really expect her to keep track of her medication and dirty clothes? Suffice it to say, Sandy was all over the map, mentally and physically. She constantly changed stations on the radio, rolled her window up and down, down and up, squirmed, one might say “writhed” in her seat, all the while prattling on about Ric’s peccadilloes, his dislike of clutter and certain sexual practices, his Zen stance on organization. His absurd talk of finances and the future, as if money or tomorrow matter! She’d never cleaned house in her life and she was not about to play maid, even though Ric brought home the bacon. The entire trip was a harangue of non-sequiturs and unrelated trivial chastisements of Ric and his maddening expectations. At the hospital there were other telling revelations. Sandy had forgotten to bring Ric his Gibson guitar as he’d asked. “Left it on the porch.” She’d failed to bring his checkbook. “Couldn’t find it.”  She’d not remembered his request to bring him a few joints. “I don’t know how to roll.” She hardly looked at Ric and when she left to use the restroom Ric confided in me his assessment: “Sandy’s off her meds! Look out, Eddie. Her demons are as venomous and real as she is beautiful and flighty.”

On the way back to Denver Sandy announced her intentions. She’d be leaving Ric and the Elizabeth Arms. Tomorrow! “And could I,” she asked, “move in with you?” - a tricky question, one I had no sure answer for, to say the least.

On the one hand, I was entranced by the blue-eyed blond beauty that was Sandy. Even though I had been deeply in love with Crazy, I had sensed an un-fulfilled desire in Sandy when I’d first met her and Ric, a passion I imagined I might be able to satiate. I remember sensing Crazy had picked up on my feelings about Sandy; my girlfriend had been especially assertive making love her remaining time with me, going as far as to fake or achieve multiple orgasms. And now here was Sandy coming on to me, bringing into focus my loneliness and horniness and longing for what I’d had with Crazy. But on the other hand there was Ric’s mention of Sandy’s demons and her medications. 

So I played it safe. “Sandy, how about I come by tomorrow. Last night, today, it’s been a blur of intoxicating emotions. Like a whirlwind in my heart. I get it that you and Ric are done for, yet being with you, I can’t help but think about Crazy. You two were like sisters. And I will admit that even when I was in love with Crazy, I used to think of you. You are one beautiful woman. Let’s do breakfast at Pete’s Kitchen in the morning. I need a night to think about your moving in with me. And I’m not sure if you’re talking as roommate or girlfriend.”

“If I move in I won’t be paying rent,” were her parting words as she sashayed up the sidewalk to the Elizabeth Arms.

Next morning I arrive at Sandy’s. Again, she’s waiting on the porch. Again down the sidewalk to my van she flies. 

I’ve decided to give it a shot, taking up with Sandy, demons and all, and I tell her as much. You might compare my lonely and horny and bemused decision making to a car going ninety-miles an hour down a dead end street with my dick in the driver’s seat and my rational mind blind-folded and tied up in the trunk. All I know is that I’m game and I’m gonna get laid. Enough said.

After a passionate kiss initiated by her, Sandy tells me she’s going to leave it all behind: her old clothes, her old life, her old ways, and her old medicines. She wants to start her new life with me without baggage. “All I need,” she tells me, “are a few things: make-up, tooth brush, hair brush, boots. Be back in a minute,” and out the van she flies, up the sidewalk and into the Elizabeth Arms. I await her return with all the nervousness of anyone on a first date, of someone about to seal his or her fate.

Minutes pass and my nervousness increases. To what have I committed? What exactly are the meds Ric spoke of? Who are the demons? More time passes. I exit my van and make my way back towards the building where I once lived happily with Crazy. Ascending the steps to the porch I see my first hint of a demon at work: Ric’s Gibson guitar.  Behind the glider against the railing, its hollow body splintered, its cat-gut strings gyring from the tuners like a nest of snakes, it apparently had been rammed repeatedly by the glider: a gone guitar for sure. More than a minor chill percolates below the surface of my skin as I step into the building and approach Sandy’s apartment, the door to which is open. And beyond the threshold is a nightmare. The former Zendo of a living space is topsy-turvy with retribution and destruction. Broken unwashed dishes fill the sink and clutter the kitchen floor and counters. Every closet and cabinet is empty, as is the open refrigerator. Foodstuffs, in and out of packaging, and cookware and clothing scattered helter-skelter from kitchen to living room baseboard constitute a maze even Daedalus could not solve. No path anywhere. The smell of sour milk mixes with the odor of soiled laundry, molding washcloths, and rotting fruit and meats. Even the temperature of the apartment is off the charts, in line with the thermostat setting that I note: 88 degrees and rising! And then I sense her aside me, coming as she has from the bathroom aside the kitchen. In her hands are the personal hygiene items she came back for: her hairbrush, toothbrush and lipstick. She’s wearing white cowgirl boots. She looks not at the destruction she has caused; rather, she looks piercingly at me, as if there’s nothing in the world but me. She quickly and haphazardly paints her lips with the purple lipstick in her hand then brushes her long cascading hair slowly. All the while her eyes give me their full attention. Then she unbuttons her blouse. She wears no bra. She empties her hands of brushes and make-up, all of which join the mess on the floor. She steps forward and falls to her knees in front of me unzipping my pants with the quick work of fingers. I close my eyes to the scene around me, to the world I know, as she takes me into her mouth. She swallows me ravenously, dead-set determined to make me unaware of her demons, but standing there, as I approach orgasm, I see in my mind’s eye unfolding visions of snakes and birds. They slither and flutter all around as they escape from her mouth and leak out of her eyes. I press the back of her head against my body in an attempt to escape the visions, to return to the tactile, the sexual, the here and now, but my hand’s first touch of the back of her head, my first skin to scalp, is met with a cruel rebuke that kills more than my sexual buzz, a warning that she practically squawks: “Don’t ever touch the back of my head. You can have the rest of me, my breasts, my lips, my ass, but my head belongs to them. Then with her side-winding arms slowly undulating, she flutters her fingers in such a way that I sense for sure the nature of her demons, the vipers and raptors to whom her head belongs. Her ophidian dance of arms and quivering flicker of digits ends with her appearing catatonic as she kneels before me. Then she unwinds herself cobra like as she coils to the floor asleep. When she awakens a little while later, she is docile, almost penitent. She knows I won’t be taking her home to my house. She knows I’ve seen her madness. Literally and figuratively. She asks that I take her to Denver General, to the psychiatric ward. “They know me there,” she whispers.

I drive to Sixth and Bannock. We sit silent in the parking lot for quite a while before she leaves me alone in my misery, bewildered, bemused, bewitched, and now with visions of snakes devouring birds and raptors ascending with talons full of snakes leaking out of my mind’s eye into my memory. Two days ago I was simply lonely. Now I will be forever hungry to go to a place to which I know I can’t return.

Monday, June 9, 2014


cover photo - Woolworth's Photo Booth circa 1965


as always
for Marcia

On my 50 cc Honda, a newly minted 1965 toy of a motorcycle, Glenn Quenzer and I, we are, after an evening of dipping into the folk music scene at the Gilded Cage in downtown Philadelphia, returning to Mayfair in the Great North-East. We’ve been pushing the envelope of loyalty to our hood and boyhood pals recently and have been hanging out with strangers: older kids, college girls wearing leotards, Ben Franklin-eyed men sporting goatees, elbow patches and berets, dilettantes quoting Rimbaud, and folkies singing Woody Guthrie. I’d developed a serious interest in the writings of Bob Dylan and had found the Gilded Cage in my search for poetry. Operated by Esther & Ed Halprin, the coffeehouse with backroom stage is ground zero for folk music and Bohemian pursuits in Philly. The first cover charge of my life I pay here. 

Glenn and I, we are still card carrying members of our teenage gang, “The Wall,” our gang’s moniker, a result of the location where we congregate: on and aside the low retaining wall in front of a large house on Walker Street at Hartel. It seemed there was a strange attraction between the girls of Holmesburg and the guys from Mayfair, and the stone wall served as a maypole of sorts, a touchstone for adolescent hearts to swing around and voices to harmonize a cappella in front of.
Now because my interest in the poetry of folk music and Glenn’s interest in playing guitar and singing on stage are outside the common interests (mostly drinking and fist-fighting) of others in The Wall, Glenn and I have mostly kept our growing passions, our interest in the arts, to ourselves. This Friday, we have opted out of going with the rest of The Wall to a major dance at the Concord Roller Rink, a somewhat serious sin of omission, as you never know if there’d be trouble for someone of the Wall, given the events of my life the last three weeks, as my mouth and Glenn’s fists have always been part of The Wall’s arsenal. Should there be trouble, as often there is, we are surely to be missed.
Heading east, hoping to rendezvous with Fiddles and Ebberly and Bauers and Dubuc and the girls when the dance lets out, we are cruising in and out of the electric buses and automobile traffic on Frankford Avenue. Debbie Marion in her customized 1964 and 1/2 powder-blue convertible Mustang recognizes me and my wheels and honks and waves as she revs her 210 horsepower, 289 cubic inch V-8 engine at the Robbins Avenue light. Part of me has always hankered for Debbie, because, after all, her tail bumper sports a sticker that reads BEATMEUCANEATME. 

Always the devotee of ice cream and custard, and knowing Glenn still has a few bucks left from his Grandfather’s stash, I downshift into the parking lot of Gino’s just west of Levick Street. The frozen treats here, they ain’t Breyers - they ain’t even Dolly Madison - but I got to say I crave sometimes the vanilla chocolate double swirl soft serve custard Gino’s serves. Glenn when he’s flush seems to go for the burgers and fries, which are outside my budget.

So we are standing at the walk up window enjoying, as always, the look and presence of unfamiliar people and places - for as I like to say, Who knows where love hides? - when a familiar and exceedingly unwelcome face appears, the face of my nemesis: Ronnie Ryan. He’s behind me in line tapping on my shoulder and he’s accompanied by his Bridesburg posse, some eight or nine thugs none of whom are smaller than me. I say “Unwelcome” because last month alone I was beaten pretty badly by Ronnie Ryan twice. First in Wildwood New Jersey and then in Wissinoming Park. All because the very woman I am hoping to rendezvous with after the dance lets out in an hour or so, Rita Romero, has been making out with both me and Ronnie, double dipping one might say, while, when alone together, professing to be going steady with each of us. Naturally, the seventeen-year honor code of 1965 dictates that we fight each other anytime we meet. Easy for Ronnie to subscribe to (at six two and 220 pounds) but not so easy for me (at five eight and 160 pounds). Not to mention, in all the fights I’ve ever had, I’ve never ever won. 

The Wildwood deal went down brutally and foolishly after we’d encountered each other on the boardwalk in front of the Starlight Ballroom. Believe you me I was not keen on fighting Ronnie Ryan given his hulking size and cocky smirking glowering, but I had no choice if I was going to maintain my honor among my fellow gang friends with whom I had hitchhiked ninety miles to be here. Because fighting on the boardwalk would surely lead to being arrested, Ronnie and I decided to take our fight away from the eye of the police who maintained a heavy presence amongst the boardwalk throngs. We left our friends, his and mine, to trash talk each other and we headed west up Oak Avenue in search of a secluded spot to fight. The whole time we are strutting and posturing, I am wondering at the depth of my foolish pride for I know in my heart there’s no way I can win. Hell I’ll be lucky to get out of this with all my teeth. All I can hope for is a miracle or a lucky lucky lucky punch.

So into the dark side yard of a small summer cottage we go. Oddly we are surrounded by big beautiful full bloom roses on the perimeter of the yard. Hundreds of them. They will serve incongruously as the ropes of our ring. Not waiting for an imaginary bell to ring, I throw the first half dozen punches the instant he turns to face me. And I connect with enough force to raise a welt on his left eye, and my Saint Joe’s Preparatory Jesuit High School ring has cut his flesh and drawn a little blood below his right eye. I keep throwing punches most of which he blocks by crossing his arms in front of his face. I go for his mid section hoping for that miracle but I am already tiring after punching furiously and dancing to avoid his grasping me. Ronnie seems not to really have any boxing skills and simply appears intent on wrestling me to the ground. With all my remaining strength I throw a wild left hook and connect with the side of his head, but the Cyclopes that is Ronnie just keeps advancing. And then I’m done for as he gets his arms around me, trips me with a foot behind and smashes me to the ground. Soon he’s got my arms pinned with his knees and my body with his ass. His fists are now free to pound me, my face, at will. The full moon in the midnight sky behind his head forms an ironic halo, given the demon I consider him to be. His first punch lands not quite squarely on my mouth as, in utter panic, I squirm with all my strength beneath him, causing him to lose his balance atop me slightly, a result of which my eyetooth fang rips the flesh above his index knuckle. As he raises fist to deliver a second blow, his blood drips in my eye. He spits at me and just as he’s about to deliver what portends to be a knockout, the miracle I had not time to pray for happens. The yard lights come on and a tiny little woman with a voice as big as she is small let’s us know: “I’ve already called the cops. They’re on their way. Get the hell out of my yard.”

And off of me Ronnie Ryan flies, and before you know it, we’re both on our way back to the boardwalk as fast as our feet will carry us, Ronnie on one side of Oak Avenue and me on the other. Honor’s one thing; cops are another. When we get to the Starlight our friends surround us. From the look of things, Ronnie with his one shut eye, bloody cheek and hand, it looks as if I’ve won, although both Ronnie and I are aware of who was about to see stars. Surprised my teeth are still intact, I can’t believe what I say next. “Hey, asshole, this ain’t over yet. I want you Tuesday night. In Wissinoming Park. Nine o’clock. And then we’ll see who’s going steady with Rita.” 

Now what prompted me to ask for another potential beating, I’ll never know. The only possible thing I could come up with is my belief in miracles. And my belief in love. But belief in miracles, like belief in hope, is not a strategy.

The next morning I hitchhike back to Philadelphia. Rita calls to tell me that she can’t believe that I actually fought Ronnie Ryan. That he looks so bad with a serious black eye and stitches on his cheekbone and knuckles. That she’s torn up about her mixed emotions. She goes so far as to confess to me in a whisper, whereas she and I have engaged in some pretty orgasmic petting, that she’s totally and especially confused because she’s “‘gone all the way’ with Ronnie (only once)” and she’s not sure she can still see me, even though she swears she’ll “always love me!” 

And I’ve already scheduled another fight, a fight I’m destined to lose again, for there won’t be no little old lady turning on her lights in a rose garden.

Tuesday night arrives and I’m with my pals, The Wall. Ronnie Ryan arrives with his Bridesburg gang. There must be close to thirty of us milling around in the middle of the park. My honor, Rita’s honor, and Ronnie’s honor are on the line. Sad I am to know that winning the fight does not mean that I’ll be winning Rita. It would seem her woman’s heart is in the corner where sex lay. That she’d fucked him not me had taken me by surprise as the naïve seventeen-year old Irish Catholic in me had not seriously considered going that far, yet.

And then it’s me and Cyclopes. In the middle of a park. Fighting because we have to. Again, I land the first few punches, again damaging Ronnie’s eye, but alas Ronnie Ryan is intent on wrestling me to the ground. And soon he’s again got me pinned. Kaboom! And I literally see stars as I wonder is this what a concussion is? Kaboom again! And then, honor be damned, I concede. “You win, I give in, I give up!” To which he replies, “You ain’t nearly had enough.”

And then as he draws back his fist to slam again my exposed defenseless face, he is lifted (literally) up into the air with a picture perfect uppercut delivered by one of my posse, Bobby Brennan, who says, “Eddie said he’s had enough.” And then all hell breaks lose as The Wall and Bridesburg begin to rumble. Everybody’s swinging except Ronnie who appears to be walking about in a Cyclopes nightmare. One eye again puffed shut, the other staring blankly. And then it’s the sound of sirens followed by the sight of paddy wagons at the west end of the park. Everyone skedaddles and retreats into the Wissinoming neighborhood night including the befuddled Ronnie who is guided to a car by two of his buds. No one gets arrested. Twice now I’ve been saved from serious damage by the intervention of others. 

And now here we go again as Ronnie Ryan stares me down. Outside a Frankford Avenue fast food joint that serves frozen custard! Both his eyes seem to be working. The stitches are gone. His balled up fists in the neon light are the size of cantaloupes.

The artist in me has already started cutting ties to my neighborhood gang, but now I am wishing all my pals were here, because my only friend, Glenn, well, he literally has a broken arm. We step out of the queue and I confer with him. I ask him quietly if he can drive my Honda with one hand. He nods in the affirmative and I slip the key to it into his arm sling. “Be ready;” I tell him, “I’ll be back.”

I approach Ronnie and his gang who are now clustered in between their cars. 

“So what’s up?” I ask. “Do we have to fight again?” 

And he responds, “No point in that. I’ll just kick your ass again. I want the motherfucker who hit me from behind.” 

“That’s not what happened. It was a fair one we were having and when I said I’d had enough you should have been happy and quit. Instead you did not relent, wanting to hurt me some more, and my pal just put an end to it. His name’s Bobby Brennan. Lincoln High’s star fullback. If you want to know what he looks like, his picture’s in The Evening Bulletin. And if you’re looking for him, we hang at The Mayfair Bowling Alley. Come on by sometime. Believe me, Bobby Brennan won’t mind ringing your chimes again, seeing as you don’t obey the code of what’s a fair-one. When someone concedes, it’s over.”

I sense that Ronnie’s about to change his mind and go ballistic, so to get out of fighting him again, I peremptorily offer out the tallest of his pals. “Hey, how about you and me, asshole, across the street. Just you and me in the alley. You’ve come for blood. Let’s spill some. Yours.”

So here I go again. Fighting for a chick who’s fucked my enemy. Fighting for an honor code that I’ve abandoned. This skinny motherfucker I’m about to fight is so tall I’m not even sure I can even reach his face, so I put everything I got into body blows. My third punch knocks the wind out of him, and to the concrete on his knees he falls. I can’t believe I’ve actually won a fight! “Had enough, I ask? Man, come on, this is crazy. We don’t even know a thing about each other and here we are. Why?” And then his breath returns and he’s up on his legs and digging in a dumpster from which he retrieves a rather hefty piece of serious lumber out of which appears to protrude some bent and gnarly nails. He swings wildly at my head and when I duck he smashes the two by six into the brick wall behind me. So forceful is his swing, the stud snaps upon impact with the wall. His torque propels him to spin and I hit him with a roundhouse in the back of his ribs. He falls to the ground wailing.

“What the fuck, you don’t even know me and you might have killed me with those nails had you not missed. You’re fucking crazy man.” And I kick him in the head with all the arch and power of a forty-yard field goal attempt, as this has long since ceased to be a fair one. He rolls on his side holding his cracked ribs and I race back across Frankford Avenue just as Glenn wheels out of Gino’s parking lot. I hop on back and down the Avenue we fly. To the dance, where for the last time I am stood up by Rita who does not show for our rendezvous.

Well, after Ronnie Ryan gathered up his pal with the cracked ribs, they headed for the Mayfair Bowling Alley looking for Bobby Brennan and me. But as I said, The Wall was partying at the Concord Roller Rink where Jerry Blavit was hosting a dance. Upon arrival at the blowing alley the people Ronnie and his pals encounter are not The Wall, rather they are a somewhat older group of nineteen and twenty year old badass boys who occupied the inside of the bowling alley. Most are future cops and many have already been to Vietnam and back. The Wall deferred to them always and reverently and amongst ourselves we referred to them as “The Men.”  Ronnie and his pals were unaware there were two groups of boys who hung at the bowling alley. So when they walked inside 
as if they owned the place,  demanding to know where Bobby and Eddie were, they were met with the fury of The Men who had no idea at all who Bobby and me were. The Men only knew we were from the hood and Ronnie and his pals weren’t. When the melee was over, Ronnie had two serious black eyes this time and I do believe even his Bridesburg pals were done with looking for me and Bobby and done with defending Ronnie’s and/or Rita’s honor. 

Next morning I call Rita to put an end to my misery. “I give up,” I tell her. “Please, don’t ever say we’re going to meet again. After the dance, after school, or after you fuck Ronnie.” Her crying into the phone puts an end to my tirade. It’s the last time we speak for close to fifty years.

But in the end both Ronnie and I, we both won something for all our machismo foolishness. Ronnie went on to marry the beautiful two-timing Rita, and I went on to enhance my teenage reputation as one crazy and fearless motherfucker. A reputation of which I was and am still quite proud, for it’s an honor to live as such in the memory of boyhood pals.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


cover art – Michael Bergt


as always
for Marcia

In keeping with Bohemian tradition, the poet and publisher, Larry Lake, my good friend and mentor, first published my poems illustrated by Michael Bergt as a broadside in 1979 entitled affirmations via his BOWERY PRESS. Likewise he published my first collection of poems, citysight, also with illustrations by Michael Bergt in 1981. He was a great compatriot (and at times enemy) who taught me to keep sacred the contract I had entered into with my muse. I also learned from Larry that writing is a lifetime’s commitment and that art is about serving one’s community, not one’s ego. Another Lake wisdom is that brother poets are brothers forever.

So when the filmmaker, Continental Catterson - whose only claim to fame was that he had produced a video documentary about an art opening at Larry Lake’s Bowery Gallery in the early 70s entitled The Bowery Gallery – when Continental Catterson shot Larry twice, I took it rather personally, as any victim’s brother would.

As far as the authorities and the Denver DA were concerned it was a coin toss when it came to the criminality of Catterson’s actions: it was either premeditated felonious assault or a Make My Day situation, for Catterson had shot Larry as Larry reentered Catterson’s home after an earlier argument about money and Catterson being eighty-sixed as the cinematographer in a film that Larry had written about a couple of home grown revolutionaries who intended to blow up Vail Colorado with a “minor” nuclear bomb that one of the revolutionaries had stolen from Lowery Air Force Base in Denver. I think the delusional Catterson might actually have believed that Lake actually possessed a bomb capable of wiping out Vail, that Catterson might some day be witness to an act of terrorism, because in preparing for his role as one of the film’s fictional anti-heroes, Larry used to whisper conspiratorially in an aside to friends and customers in his bookstore:

“Hey remember when John F Kennedy said that he was the only person who could push a button that would launch a nuclear bomb? Well, he was wrong. I have a tactical nuclear weapon that I stole when I was in the Air Force and I have hidden it up at Sam Pace’s cabin in Evergreen.”

Production of the film was currently in limbo as winters in Vail are hardly conducive to filmmaking and Michael Klein, Larry’s favorite lens guy, would not be available to replace Catterson as cameraman until sometime in March.

Now Catterson had been so rattled by his demotion from cameraman to go-fer and lackey that the day before the shooting, Thursday, February 12th, he had visited my wife, Marcia, at the studio where she worked and babbled to her his evolving concern that Larry was going to shoot him on the morrow, as Catterson owed Larry money for building and painting a backyard fence, and he would not have the money on Friday as promised. That Catterson shot Larry a day after asserting that Larry (who did not own a gun) would shoot him, put my opinion of the entire incident firmly on the side of premeditated attempted murder.

But for Larry there was a silver lining within the cloud of doubt surrounding his being shot, as Larry left Denver General with an open ended prescription for morphine to deal with the pain of the numerous surgeries that saved his life. Given his predilections for narcotic vision and pain relief, Larry much preferred morphine over the methadone he’d been using to assuage his cravings. And he was happy. Larry eventually confided in me that even though it was decidedly a premeditated assault, purposeful pay back of sorts for Larry “using” Catterson for his cameras rather than his cinematic skills and for Larry having slapped Catterson when Catterson claimed he had no money at present to pay Larry for a week’s labor building and painting the fence, Larry declined to press charges and opted not to pursue a civil suit as he did not want to put his friend and art circles with which he was involved under scrutiny, as the ripple effects of such investigation could reveal sundry heavy-duty Bohemian drug connections.

But this story is not so much about Larry Lake and Continental Catterson as it is about sloppy sloppy journalism.

At the time of Lake’s near death on Friday, February 13, 1981, WESTWORD was still in its infancy or, you might say, toddler-hood. The original founders, Patty Calhoun, Sandra Widener, and Rob (last name forgotten) were still hands-on and a little more than three years into their publication of Denver’s alternative arts weekly. Now weekly means tough, tight and rapid fire deadlines and when a young journalist name of Ken Freed showed up six hours before going to press with a story about the shooting of one of Denver’s more infamous and note-worthy beatniks, they cut and pasted Freed’s story into their layout on the spot without giving much thought to the content of what Freed had written. Sad to say it’s diligence be damned when a deadline demands.

Now Mr. Freed was a newly minted journalism graduate who had edited the Metro State student newspaper, and hence his credibility with WESTWORD. Unfortunately, he was a better student than he was a journalist. His source for his take on the shooting, a used book and liquid opium dealer named Bill Good, possessed no first or even second hand knowledge of the events surrounding the shooting. Mr. Liquid O Good knew nothing of tensions surrounding the making of the film about blowing up Vail, nada when it came to Catterson’s demotion in the film’s hierarchy, zip about the fence and the money owed. Good simply disliked Lake as Larry was, indeed, a gracious charm-ster when he wished, a favorite of the women, bigger than life, and a bad-ass Air-Force trained boxer to boot who had bad mouthed Mr. Good regarding his greed around the liquid O he sold. So when Freed – under the influence of Mr. Good – wrote that “Larry Lake deserved to be shot” because “Lake was an art bully,” and WESTWORD ran the story, more than journalism ethics were violated, and, in my Irish mind, some redress was in order.

Now at the time, I liked WESTWORD (and still do). Early on in May of 1979, WESTWORD had published a piece on Colorado poetics and had spoken of Allen Ginsburg and myself as being central figures in Colorado poetry, illustrating the story with Marcia’s photo of me reading at Café Nepenthes where I hosted readings. Still it was WESTWORD that had dropped the ball as far as I was concerned when it came to the fiasco of the Lake story. Freed and Good were petty, talent-less small minds, minor players in the debacle, but the professionals, Patty and Sandra and Rob, should have at least read and understood the slander they were printing. They should have known better.

Now at the time, Marcia was some eight months pregnant (as was Larry’s wife Barbara, who had introduced me and Marcia). Still, Marcia and I took it upon ourselves to visit the second story Larimer Street offices of WESTWORD to express our outrage and to demand both an apology and a rewrite of the story. In actuality I think Marcia feared what I might to if I went alone, that’s how worked up I was over the story.

We ascended the stairs and huffed and puffed our way into the one-room office shared by Patty, Rob and Sandra. I was so mad about the defamation of my pal Larry, so full of pent-up anger and hostility, my one hundred and sixty pounds upon my five-foot eight frame probably appeared more like two hundred pounds upon a six-foot frame. First I flung a dozen copies of the WESTWORD issue containing the story in the general directions of all three editors. A tornado it seemed had entered the room the way the pages of the paper vortex-ed and helicopter-ed in the air before landing on the desks, their laps and floor. And then, without so much as a howdy-do, I launched into a whirling dervish litany of accusations concerning Patty and Sandra and Rob’s professional shortcomings and failures as editors to fact check anything Freed had written (hell, he didn’t even have the location of Catterson’s house correct) and highlighted their utter insensitivity to the fact that a beloved artist and man and about-to-be-father, my best friend, and a publisher like themselves, had been shot. With a gun. In the liver. With real thirty-eight caliber bullets. By a man who had hidden the cocked and loaded revolver behind his back. Shot twice, the second time in the thigh as Larry lay bleeding on the floor; a third fired bullet had missed Larry’s genitals by inches. By a pathetic excuse of a man, a faux hipster sociopath who hid a loaded gun in every room of his house. A man who often expressed to those he thought he might impress at gatherings and screenings and openings that he looked forward to the day that some neighborhood kid, some teeny-bopper gangster wanna-be, might break into his Five-Points bungalow so that he, Continental Catterson, would have license to shoot and kill. And, I roared incredulously, WESTWORD’s justification for this attempted Make My Day murder is that “Lake was an art bully.”

Now I will admit I was a little over the top, dramatically speaking. I will also admit to maybe speaking with something other than a corporate inside office voice. Hell, I might have been speaking in tongues. I will also admit to pointing fingers and threatening two things: one, that I would contact every WESTWORD advertiser and badger them into advertising somewhere else – maybe in Boulder’s SOLDIER OF FORTUNE magazine - and two, that I would blab to everyone I knew that Rob was quietly giving up his interest in WESTWORD so they he could pursue his current passion of becoming “a fucking mercenary soldier in Africa,” something I bellowed in a most accusatory tone, a tidbit of info I had gleaned via the Denver art-world grapevine, something that I suspect that neither Patty or Sandra were aware of, given the flush, the beet red complexion that overtook Rob’s visage with my revelation of his intentions to become a trained killer.  “Go ahead Rob, pick a side and feel free to murder people on the other side, and, please, take Catterson with you.”

I think Rob wished he had a gun as I stared him down. Both Patty and Sandra averted their eyes downward from Marcia’s and mine in a sheepish admission of their complicity and guilt. After my tirade there were more than a few moments of silence before Ms Calhoun broached an admission of WESTWORD’s mistakes. Marcia and I soon left feeling some what vindicated and satisfied, as Patty promised she’d publish a retraction or apology written by someone other than Mr. Freed. She attributed WESTWORD’s sloppy oversight to looming deadlines and hurried late night corner cutting.

And, to WESTWORD’s credit, they published an apology in the next issue, lampooning both themselves for their lack of oversight and Mr. Freed for the callousness and inaccuracies of his story.

And then in 1987, on the tenth anniversary of WESTWORD, Sandra Widener - who had left WESTWORD and was currently a staff writer at NEWSDAY in New York - submitted a piece for inclusion in the silver anniversary edition of WESTWORD. Basically Sandra admitted to being exceedingly scrupulous, indeed, obsessed with fact checking and that she intermittently suffered nightmares as a result of publishing the story of Larry Lake’s shooting. She said she would sometimes awake in the middle of the night worried that that “gang of poets” – her memory was that there were a half dozen or more angry poets - that the gang of poets that filled WESTWORD’s office that day in 1981 would storm into her New York City walkup in the middle of the night demanding redress for some failure on her part. Somehow I find it funny, rewarding and empowering that Sandra remembered me and my eight-month pregnant wife as a gang of a half a dozen poets.

Monday, April 7, 2014


cover photography - Marcia Ward


                                Saints and Snakes

as always
for Marcia

Back in the day when I became a journeyman – as opposed to apprentice – poet, I met a rather talented young writer, pen name of “Snake,” at a poetry reading on Seventeenth Avenue in Denver at which I was a regular attendee.

Snake was a tall handsome young man, early twenties, a mix of Latin and European ancestry; Germany and Puerto Rico were his two principal not-too-distant ancestral homelands. His poetry was Kerouac-esque, mellifluous and chatter-y. He had picked up the ball that a drunken Jack had dropped, and I could see Snake making a big score someday in the poetry arena. I introduced myself and told him I’d love to share with him what I knew of the Bohemians, poets, and beatniks of Denver, that he should come to my house and listen to a few outrageous tapes that I possessed, recordings of the late greats, James Ryan Morris and Stuart Z Perkoff, and the living legend Tony Scibella, the Kid in America, himself. “There are,” I told him, “other approaches to the poem besides the one popularized by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.”

So off to my home on Pennsylvania we go. It’s about midnight and I know my wife and sons will be sleeping in our family bed, so it’s softly and quietly we tread as we enter and get comfortable in my living room. Now my wife Marcia grew up in Wyoming where silence (aside from the wind) is the song of night, and I no sooner turn on the stereo to listen to Jimmy Morris when Marcia, awakened by the recorded voice, walks, somnambulist like, into the living room. She’s wearing flannel pajamas and she rubs her eyes before stretching her arms upward and then forward to embrace me. Because she is not wearing her contact lenses it takes her a moment to realize that I am not alone in the living room, and when she does her modesty dictates that she not stay and she returns to the bedroom. I join her and explain what’s going on with Snake, assuring her that we will be as quiet as possible in the other room. She frowns disapprovingly at my mention of the name of my new friend, but then blows me a kiss before rejoining Passion and Zenith on the futon. She is asleep again before I leave the room.

“Who was that creature?” Snake asks when I return to the living room. The tone and subtext of his query, as I read it, indicates that Marcia’s appearance was as charming and enchanting as it was brief. I think to myself, “The boy is smitten.”

Well I sort of take Snake under my wing. I publish a poem of his as a broadside, a full color affair. I illustrate his nostalgic words with a collage I make with some of my own boyhood memorabilia: Holmesburg football team photos, a black and white of my Mom, and me mugging with boyhood pals. Snake winds up eating dinner with my family three, four, five times a week. When I have an opportunity to move to North Denver into a sweet Victorian on 37th Avenue, Snake follows and rents a second story walk-up apartment right next door. I can’t help but think I’m living the poet’s life, mentoring young Snake as I had been mentored by Larry Lake who had published my first broadside ten years earlier. In fact, Snake is as close to family as it gets, given the amount of time we spend together, and I share business and art opportunities with him as well. He plays with my young sons and gets on well with my dog and even my persnickety cat. Snake housesits when my family travels to Wildwood NJ for a week at the beach. We share some very crazy 80s times as well, partying with counterculture abandon. On more than one occasion, we dodge trouble together with a capital T, sidestepping authority, attributing our luck to the purity of our dedication to poetry and our respective muses. Indeed, we are brother poets burning brightly.

And then Snake hooked up with the love of his life, and we, my family, didn’t see him for weeks. He wasn’t at home and he wasn’t at our dinner table. And then as suddenly as he had come into my family’s life, he was on his way to New Mexico with the woman who would become his wife. The day he packed up his belongings, mostly books and artwork, we met his mysterious love, Veronica Pinon.

Veronica was an artist and teacher, the daughter of a prominent highway contractor. Her family could trace its roots in New Mexico back some two hundred years. She was not New Mexican, she was Spanish, she told me more than once, with an air of distancing herself from any association with the Native American/Mexican gene pool. Entitled, privileged, talented, a go-get-er. Veronica took, for reasons unknown, an instant dislike to the Bohemian that I am, as if I had been a poor influence upon her lover, no matter I had published his poetry, nurtured his general entrepreneurial and artistic spirit, had fed him home cooked meals the last few years, and granted him access to the touchstone of family, mine. Well, Veronica was not the first girlfriend of a friend to put the brakes on friendship with me as I have generally lived my life with Irish abandon and often Steppenwolfed the road less traveled. Outside my home on 37th Avenue, I wished Snake good luck and bid him adieu when he drove off, enchanted with Veronica, to begin a new life chapter in New Mexico.

Months go by without any contact, and I must admit, I missed Snake - moocher that he was - my apprentice, my friend, the younger brother that I never had. And then, out of the blue, we receive in the mail an invite to his wedding. In Santa Fe. In two weeks. And would Marcia bring her cameras to photograph the nuptials?  Well it’s no easy task leaving town, even for a weekend, when there are children, a dog and cat, and a home where being vacant for days invites burglary. But we get it together, the house and pet sitter, and Marcia even goes the extra mile and rents over-the-top special lenses and purchases special low light film to photograph the evening wedding.

We leave for Santa Fe at midnight so our young sons will sleep the bulk of the eight-hour car ride and we arrive early on the morning of the wedding. The hotel where Veronica’s family from Albuquerque, Snake’s family from Wisconsin, and some Denver friends are staying informs us that we can’t check into our rooms until 11 AM; thus, I have the clerk ring Snake and Veronica’s room to come up with a game plan. I’m figuring we’ll hook up with them, maybe have breakfast together, catch up in general, and give Marcia and Veronica time to figure out an approach to the wedding photos. But instead of a warm welcome and invitation, Snake tells me that he and Veronica are planning on sleeping in, after all, they were up late, and that we should simply hang out in the lobby until we can check into our rooms. Walk around the plaza. And please, don’t call again until the afternoon.

Well, my first gut instinct is to return to Denver. Now! But Marcia is really looking forward to photographing the wedding. In low light, with her special film and her rented lenses. And her photography was to be a wedding gift, to Snake, who had been a member of our family the last few years. So, counter to what my gut and heart are telling me, I agree to stay for the ceremony, and I swallow the pill of Snake and Veronica’s rudeness. Despite being as tired as I am after the all night drive, I lead my family on a tour of what I know of Santa Fe, for I had spent a week here some fourteen years before. We visit the Loretto Chapel and I retell the tale of the spiral staircase that coils its way from the ground floor to the mezzanine.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder, as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. Story has it that the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, to solve their problem. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. A season or two later, the dovetailed, magnificent spiral staircase was completed - without use of a nail - and the carpenter disappeared. After coming up empty in their search for him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers.

After our visit to the Loretto Chapel, we take a short drive to Hyde Park just outside town along Little Tesuque Creek in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and have a picnic of a breakfast there. I tell my sons that I live in Denver because while camped at Hyde Park in 1975 I happened to have a conversation with a Santa Fe politician who convinced me Denver was better suited to my dream of opening up a bohemian coffee house restaurant than Santa Fe, because Santa Fe locals, he told me, eat at home, and visiting tourists eat in high end restaurants.

Back at the hotel we check in and go to our room. We hope to catch a little sleep while Passion and Zenith luxuriate in Saturday morning cartoons on the cable fed big screen. And we do. Upon awakening, we again have the concierge connect us with Snake and Veronica’s room as Marcia needs to scout the wedding sight and reception area for photo backdrops and get the skinny on how many group shots of family and friends she will be taking. She wants to be sure to properly allocate her film. She is hoping to shoot the bride and groom with her large format, four by five, camera, and to do so when the light is at its low-in-the-sky, late afternoon best. Her excitement with her task, however, morphs to frustration and anger, when Snake tells her that Veronica has decided that she does not want to have to organize any part of her wedding day around photos. In fact, Veronica would prefer that Marcia not even bring her cameras to the ceremony, her reasoning being that somehow a camera will rob the ceremony of its spiritual validity.

Impulsive decision maker that I am, we’re on our way towards Taos on the High Road as soon as we pack up all the gear that we had just unpacked. Never have we been treated so rudely. So gracelessly. So disrespectfully. And we are clueless as to why? And never have I ever felt so un-forgiving.

But forgiveness is a funny thing.

Years pass and one day I am graced with a letter of apology penned by Snake. He confides that Veronica had always been jealous of our (mine and Marcia’s) relationship with him. Veronica disapproved of my dropout beatnik approach to life and art. She was envious of Snake’s admiration for Marcia as an artist and his self-confessed and unfulfilled infatuation with “The creature that was Marcia.” She was scornful of my counterculture entrepreneurial endeavors. My disrespect for authority. My Irish nature. Snake tells me that over the course of their lives the last two years in Germany where Veronica had gotten a job teaching art at a US Military High School, he’d gone straight and gotten a college degree. They were planning to move back to New Mexico as Veronica had secured an elementary teaching job in a small, indeed, tiny Spanish Land Grant town, Cordova, on the High Road to Taos, north of Santa Fe. He invited us to visit sometime this summer as they were hoping to open up an art gallery where Snake hoped Marcia could exhibit her fine art photography.

As I said, forgiveness is a funny thing. And so, Marcia and I, trusting in the sincerity of Snake’s apology/explanation forgave Snake and decided to reestablish a relationship with my former   apprentice, and the eight hour ride to Cordova became a yearly thing for my family.

Now Cordova New Mexico, home to world-renown woodcarvers, is a very fecund place. The original village has a wall around it, which had been built to protect the inhabitants from wandering Mescalero Apaches. The first year we visited, a garage not a hundred yards from where we slept was set a blaze and burned completely to the ground before the fire truck from Truchas arrived. The cause of the fire: arson. The next time we visited, Snake’s best friend in Cordova, a young wood carver who had introduced Snake to the craft of making santos, Wally, he committed suicide. The third time we visited, three dogs were shot-gunned point blank in the street by one of Snake’s neighbors, his way of continuing what I was told was a forty year old feud between two families. The fourth time we sojourned there, water for the town dried up and National Guard trucks had to provide drinking water for the four hundred plus residents. Our final visit to Rio Arriba County, however, proved to be the craziest.

Marcia’s career as a photographer had many phases: fine art ala Ansel Adams came first; then wedding photography for a couple of years, and finally, straight up commercial photography with the purchase of the business we have owned the last twenty-two years. One of Marcia’s most successful clients was the sculptor, Glenna Goodacre. Glenna has sculpted presidents; her life size bronze of Ronald Regan stands in the Regan Library. Her Woman’s Viet-Nam Memorial adorns Washington DC, and her Irish Memorial in Philadelphia sits just off the Delaware River down the street from Independence Hall where her thirty-five life-size bronzes greet the ghosts of Irish past who haunt the wharfs of Philadelphia at the site where the émigrés landed in America fleeing the Irish famine. Glenna once lived in Colorado and had her sculptures cast in Loveland and that’s how Marcia came to photograph her bronzes, usually at the foundry before shipment to wherever they were going. One year, after moving to Santa Fe, Glenna asked if Marcia would come to New Mexico to photograph a recently cast monumental sculpture, a large wall with children playing on it. She offered to put Marcia, me, and the kids up for a few days at her guesthouse that sat on the estate that housed her studio. The sculpture was going to be moved at summer’s end to somewhere in California and she hoped Marcia could photograph it before then.

As it turned out one of my nieces, Shannon, was planning to rendezvous in late July with my family that summer in Chaco Canyon, a magical place just shy of two hundred miles west, north west of Santa Fe. Nearly a thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the ancient population of the pueblos. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. Archeoastronomy was practiced there with many buildings aligned to capture solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. We were going to meet Shannon and then spend a week on a houseboat at Navajo Lake in southern Colorado. Marcia and I decided to append the photo shoot with Glenna in Santa Fe to the front end of our adventure and, while we were at it, maybe visit Snake and Veronica.

The Pinons (for some reason Snake had adopted Veronica’s last name as his own) had expanded their gallery/home in Cordova and had even purchased the property east of their house. It served as Snake’s music studio. My oldest son was playing saxophone and my youngest played guitar and so after a phone call to Snake, a jam in Cordova became part of our itinerary. After a camp-night at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, we’d spend a few days in Cordova, a few more at Glenna’s, some time at Chaco, and then five days on the houseboat at Navajo Lake. It would be, we hoped, a rich, on the road, unparalleled vacation, mixing family, friends and business. It took a week just to organize and pack our Mazda minivan; we even had to purchase and install a Sears’ cargo carrier on the roof to accommodate the sundry photographic, music, camping, boating, and swimming gear we’d need.

After camping Friday night at the Great Sand Dunes south of Crestone, we spend a morning visiting Fort Garland, the gateway to the San Luis Valley, before heading to the town of San Luis itself, which happens to be the oldest town in Colorado. Now, unknown to us, in late July, San Luis and the Parish of Sangre de Cristo organize a festival, Santana Days, to celebrate and honor the mother of the Virgin Mary, Santa Ana. It’s three days and nights of party party party, with a parade on Saturday. As we arrive in San Luis we can’t believe our good fortune at having arrived on the biggest day of the year in this charming little town – population six hundred plus - where everyone knows everyone, if in fact they are not actually related. Everyone for miles around is on Main Street, as are a convention center’s fill of low-riders, motorcycles, antique cars, and horse pulled farm relics. The air is alive with the sound of Spanish serenades, Bud lite pop-tops popping, horns honking, radios blaring, Michoachan marihuana sizzling, mariachi music marching, and Hispanic food, deep frying and barbecuing. It seems San Luis is as happy as Mount Blanca to the west is domineering: that is, big time. We spend the morning amongst the   celebrants then climb back into our Mazda to head towards Taos New Mexico, some sixty miles south of the Colorado New Mexico border. When we pull away from the curb I detect a ghost of power loss as the transmission automatically shifts from second into third. A light flickers on my dash. I am spooked, and as the festivities of San Luis recede in my rearview mirror, I consider the wisdom of heading into the high desert mountain wilderness between here and Taos with indicator lights flickering faintly. Wisely, I turn around and head back into the thick of Santana Days, because no sooner have I reached the south end of town than all power to the engine ceases. The motor is running but it seems the transmission is useless, kaput, finito! We glide to a stop. I turn off the ignition and attempt to restart the engine. Again: nada. I exit the van and assess the situation. There are three gas stations within sight, but all are closed for the holiday and none appear to be full service garages. I’m guessing the closest Mazda dealer would be back in Colorado Springs or further south in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. And when I use a phone in a Main Street restaurant I find my guess as to the location of a Mazda dealer was eerily correct.

Well, we are on a schedule and people (Glenna in Santa Fe and my niece in Chaco Canyon) are counting on us. Snake and Veronica are expecting us to arrive today. And then, on this holiday of a saint, a saint appears, a stranger to us, but a saint, nonetheless.

“Car trouble?” he asks before telling us, “From my window I watched you coast to a stop, saw you making phone calls, and can’t help but note your obvious distress. Please know, I’d be happy to help you depart this madness,” indicating with a wave of his hand the revelry around us as the Santanna parade is now in full swing, with a marching mariachi band progressing northward. “I deplore this holiday. By night there will be drunken mayhem, a shooting or stabbing or two, and trash everywhere. Hardly an appropriate way to honor the mother of God’s mother, if you know what I mean. Trust me: she’s not smiling. I’ll tow you anywhere you want to go. My cousin’s got a flatbed. He can be here within the hour. I’m happy to help. Where would you like to go? Alamosa? Colorado Springs, or somewhere in New Mexico? You pay for gas, buy me and my cousin lunch in Taos, and I’ll take you all the way to Santa Fe, if need be.”

Now I’m Irish and believe in luck but this is almost beyond belief, miracle-like; nonetheless, our benefactor, this blue-eyed, bearded Joseph – who could have served as a model for many of Snakes’ carvings of Mary’s husband I have seen - proves to be for real, and before noon my family is ensconced in the back seat of a Suburban to which is hitched a flat bed trailer on which is strapped our mini van, progressing southward on the High Road to Santa Fe.

Well as it turns out the Feast of Santa Ana is celebrated not only in San Luis but in every Hispanic town and Native American pueblo on the High Road between Colorado and Santa Fe: in Questa, El Prado, Taos, Rancho de Taos, Placita, Penasco, Talpa, Picuris Pueblo, Dixon and Truchas. Traffic snakes towards and through each of these towns and crossroads, and what should have been a two-hour drive takes seven. We pull off the High Road and down the hill into Cordova just as the sun begins casting the shadows of the Jemez Mountains eastward. One can’t imagine how happy we are to have arrived at the Pinon hacienda and gallery. Similarly one cannot imagine how happy we will be to bid farewell to the Pinons a week from now, as our time here is fecund with unimaginable strangeness and unmitigated meanness that begins with my first conversation with Snake.

Now our new friends from San Luis had not expected how heavy and slow-moving the traffic on the High Road would be, and they are as weary and antsy to get on with their day, well their night, as we are. Taos had been a madhouse of Santa Ana celebration and we had not even stopped for lunch. Our Saint Joseph and his cousin are hungry and thirsty and wishing they were in Santa Fe already. My hope is to leave the van at a car dealer in Santa Fe after unloading all our gear, here, in Cordova. Marcia and the kids will stay here while Snake and I escort Joseph and my van to the dealership. We will go in Snake’s car so Joseph and his brother won’t have to bring me back to Cordova and they can take I-25, rather than the High Road back to San Luis. I figure Snake and I will catch up during the roundtrip to and from Santa Fe, and maybe do a wee bit of Saturday Night partying in Santa Fe as I am flush with vacation money to burn. So you can imagine my shock when Snake tells me, “I’d rather not drive to Santa Fe tonight. I don’t like going into Santa Fe on Saturday. Have Joseph bring you back here.”

I look at Marcia. I look at Joseph. I take Marcia aside and tell her we should just go with Joseph and stay in Santa Fe. “Leave now!” as I sense another bout of wedding insanity, disrespect and rudeness. But she disagrees and counters my argument: “Since Veronica is pregnant, maybe Snake does not want to leave her here in Cordova without any means of transportation.” I’m not buying it and am protesting with my body language when the saint that is Joseph, overhearing our repartee and sensing my dismay, tells me, “I’ll be happy to take you and your van to Santa Fe and then return you here. I have relatives in Truchas and my cousin and I will spend our night with family.

So off we go, Saint Joseph and I, once again, on the High Road to Santa Fe.

Because celebrations honoring Santa Ana are taking place in Espanola and at other Native American pueblos between Cordova and Santa Fe, it takes close to three hours for the round trip. When I finally bid farewell to Saint Joseph and his cousin in the full moon light of the Pinon front yard, I am greeted by Snake who steps out of the moon shadow of his apple tree. He tells me our wives and my boys are asleep and that we should go up to his studio – which he had named Tibet – to relax and converse. Imagine my annoyance when I spy a second car belonging to Snake parked there. I know it’s his because of the Free Tibet bumper sticker. Marcia’s reasoning surrounding Snake’s refusal to accompany me to Santa Fe had been wrong as there would have been transportation should a sudden emergency with Veronica’s pregnancy have arisen. But I’m too tired and spooked to pry; Snake and I drink some wine and have an hour’s conversation about sundry subjects, including the parochial nature of Cordova, without my bringing up my annoyance with his rudeness.

Morning brings a new day and we eat a simple breakfast of bananas and cereal after sleeping late. It is Sunday and the dealership where I left my van will not open until Monday; meaning I won’t get a diagnosis and an estimate of when I might get my van back until then. This limbos our planned itinerary, leaving it in an uncertain state. We had hoped to leave for Glenna’s on Tuesday morning but I realize we might still be without our van. After breakfast I try to figure out what we might do. Sadly and selfishly Snake and Veronica seem to imply that our problems are our problems and they have no intention of getting involved. They seem to act as though our car trouble was an assault on their convenience and daily life. They assert again that they would rather not drive to Santa Fe, without offering any reason why not. The only thing I can come up with is that they are afraid that their home might be robbed if they leave it unattended. Espanola, the nearest town of any size, is known nationally as the heroin capitol of North America. But even this guess as to the reason for their reluctance does not make sense. They have lived here five years and surely they leave their house sometimes.

Trying to save the morning, I suggest that Passion and Zenith get their instruments and jam with Snake. I had noticed a couple of beat-up, pawnshop Stratocasters in Snake’s studio and I knew Zenith would appreciate a chance to play one. Sadly the jam turns out to be a bust as Snake tells us his guitars are off limits, that Zenith would have to make do with his Gibson. After an hour or so of being anything but groovy, we return to the main house. I cannot help but notice that the kitchen has been cleaned up and even the bowl of mangos and bananas that had sat so picturesquely on the table was out of sight. My boys, ever hungry, ask after the fruit and are told it had been put away for later.

Now next door to Snake’s house, to the west, was the largest house in Cordova. Snake and Veronica had tried to buy it, but Josephita who owned it refused the Pinon’s generous offers because she wanted to keep it in the family, not exactly her blood family, but in the Cordova family. As I discover later that morning in a conversation with George Lopez, Cordova’s most famous woodcarver, Snake and Veronica would always be considered outsiders, no matter that Veronica was the elementary school teacher responsible for the education of the children of Cordova. The people of Cordova were tight and their circle was impenetrable. Apparently Snake had really alienated the town when he had taken up wood carving as that art was not something to be practiced by an outsider. That Snake sold his carvings at his gallery was insulting to the fifth and sixth generation wood carvers of Cordova. Just how resentful the people of Cordova were about outsiders is illustrated by a story Snake had told me the night before.

In March a couple from Boulder, Colorado purchased a house across the road from the Pinon Gallery. They sold their home there and were hoping to spend their golden years in Cordova, as they simply loved the landscape and the proximity to Santa Fe and Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. They were O’Keefe fans and even owned a small painting that they had purchased years ago from Gerald Peters. They made arrangements to move their possessions to Cordova while they vacationed and visited family in Arizona. Their plan was to arrive in Cordova the day after their belongings were delivered to their new home. It had been a wet late winter in New Mexico and when the Mayflower moving van from Boulder with its Colorado plates left the High Road to head down hill to Cordova it got stuck in the mud where the centuries old irrigation ditch was contiguous with the road. The driver walked the last half-mile into Cordova in search of a phone or a tow, and when he returned forty-five minutes later he found the van and everything inside – including the O’Keefe - ablaze. The smoke billowing skyward was an exclamation mark to the unexpressed village sentiment: Outsiders are not welcome here!

But outsiders – a family from La Cienega south of Santa Fe, had purchased Josephita’s house. I guess, in actuality, Josephita, had a hidden agenda and for reasons of her own, simply did not want to sell it to the Pinons. The new owners had fashioned Josephita’s home into a Bed & Breakfast and ran a small café. Since Passion and Zenith were hungry and the hidden fruit was “for later” I suggested I treat everyone to lunch at the café. But for reasons known only to them, Snake and Veronica, tell us they are not hungry; thus only my family and I head to the café. Now keep in mind we are in a town of some four hundred residents and everyone knows of everyone’s comings and goings. We don’t have to tell anyone anything because the family running the café as well as George Lopez and his brother, conversing over coffee in the corner, have seen us approach from Snake’s side door. All appear leery of us, as if we are bringing some bad juju into the room. But after a few minutes of my kids wowing everyone with their enthusiasm for the food and the santos for sale in the display case, our association with Snake and Veronica is forgotten or simply overlooked. We are not outsiders moving here; we are simply tourists, and tourists are the economic lifeblood of Cordova. We get friendly with our waitress, Magdalena, a seventeen year old and chat her up about our car situation, mentioning Snake and Veronica’s reluctance to drive to Santa Fe. Her facial expression informs me that Magdalena finds this not surprising, her disdain for the Pinons apparent in the roll of her brown eyes. I tell her that we’re feeling so out of touch with our hosts, so alienated, that I’m thinking of hitchhiking into Santa Fe and renting a car so we can keep our date with Glenna Goodacre while our car is being repaired.

“No need to hitchhike,” she says, “I’ll drive you to Santa Fe when we close for the afternoon. In one hour.”

“Day two, Saint two,” I whisper to Marcia.

So I refigure our itinerary. We’ll go rent a car and then come back to Cordova for what we’ll need in the short term: Marcia’s camera gear and clothes to wear until then. We will stay in Santa Fe at another old friend’s geodesic dome, Eloi Hernandez’s home, a night or two. And then a night or two at Glenna’s. Once we have our van back and are finished photographing at Glenna’s, we’ll return to Cordova and get what we must leave behind: the saxophone and guitar, our swim and boating stuff, our suitcases and camping gear.

I tell Snake our plans and he seems relieved that we will not be asking him to help. Soon we are on our way to Santa Fe feeling pretty high as the Pinon hacienda fades from view. The last twenty-four hours reinforced the notion that family is sometimes all you have. I tell Marcia that maybe Cordova’s dislike of outsiders has possessed the consciousness of Snake and Veronica. Paranoia can be a powerful disease, one that leads to incivility and distrust. Why else would we have been treated so rudely? And why, I still can’t figure out, are they afraid to drive to Santa Fe?

Two hours later Magdalena is on her way back to Cordova and we are sitting in the Tecolote Cafe awaiting the arrival of sundry friends who live in and near Santa Fe: Eloi and assorted members of his family and other artist friends. Eloi, a Yaqui Indian, was a founding member of the Hog Farm, one of the first Hippie communes, and he had had two wives and eighteen children. My son Passion’s godfather, the artist Michael Bergt and his wife Tamara and daughter Sienna would be joining us along with the poet John Macker and his wife Anne who were driving down from Las Vegas. All of these friends I had hoped to introduce to Snake and Veronica but their aversion to Santa Fe had denied me the opportunity to enrich their insular existence. (And yes, I am aware how judgmental I sound.) After an afternoon of eating and drinking and reminiscing, my friends all head home and my family heads to the Plaza to partake of the scene there. As we wander amongst the displays and blankets full of merchandise of the Native American artisans in front of the Governor’s Mansion, I hear Marcia gasp and utter what sounds like the word snake. Thinking she must have come across a snakeskin belt or a serpentine fetish or a piece of jewelry too snake-like for her tastes – after all: Marcia grew up in Wyoming where rattlesnakes are central to every woman’s nightmares – I turn to see her wide-eyed and seemingly dumbfounded. “Snake,” she says again and indicates with her eyes and head gesture that I should turn around. “There," she says, “across the plaza. It’s Snake and Veronica skulking around and spying on us. There, slinking among the crowd in front of Loretto Chapel. It’s them. They’re here in Santa Fe. Obviously following us.”

Well, needless to say, we don’t join them and we hightail it to a second story restaurant on the Plaza where from our balcony table we can keep watch for our stalkers. Marcia is so shook up by the presence of the Pinons in Santa Fe, that she drinks the first and second Margaritas of her life. We catch our last sight of them, side-winding their way among the tourists as they depart the Plaza. This turns out to be, literally, our last sight of the slithering Pinons in New Mexico.

Resuming our vacation, we spend two wonderful nights with Eloi Hernandez and his family. Passion and Zenith enjoy the party spirit that pervades Eloi’s self-built dome, as people are constantly coming and going and inventing merriment as only the children of a commune do. My kids are up late nights with the adults as Eloi tells his tale of being Jimi Hendrix’ bodyguard at Woodstock. We watch the film on VHS and it’s high fives all around each time Eloi can be seen. And then it’s off to Glenna Goodacre’s where we enter the personal universe of the world’s most famous woman sculptor. Everywhere there are fabulous things: furniture and weavings and rugs and paintings and beautiful bronze statues, many of which are based on Glenna’s daughter, Jill, a Victoria Secrets model, who is married to Harry Connick, Jr. The guesthouse where we stay is the other end of the universe from Eloi’s 60s dome and Snake’s Cordovan hacienda. I estimate the art in the guesthouse alone to be worth millions.

Anyway, as it turns out, we get to retrieve our Mazda on Thursday afternoon. The transmission has been replaced and, miracle of miracles, we are still on schedule to rendezvous with my niece in Chaco Canyon on the morrow. We bid Glenna farewell, pickup our van, and drop off our rental car, before heading back to Cordova to retrieve the gear and belongings we had left behind. On our way thunderclouds develop and before we pass the Nambe reservation a deluge of rain cascades from the sky. The wipers can hardly keep up. But after a stop at Ortega’s in Chimayo to purchase a couple of small weavings and to await the cessation of rain, it’s nightfall and the moon appears amongst the scattering thunder clouds as we exit the High Road to descend the hill into Cordova. Marcia remarks the scene is reminiscent of Ansel Adams’ Moon Rise Over Hernandez, the very photograph that had inspired her to become a photographer decades earlier.

Snake and Veronica’s property sits on the only road into town, and as we approach, we see their houselights glowing in the valley darkness, as there are no streetlights in the village. But when I turn into the driveway between the hacienda and Tibet, the lights in the house go dark and my headlights offer the only illumination as a cloud has swallowed the moon. As I exit the van and approach the front door up a muddied flagstaff walkway, I see our belongings piled on the rain soaked sod aside the house, covered with a soaping wet painter’s canvas drop cloth. I sense but do not see eyes spying from behind the closed curtains of the gallery. It is obvious that we are not welcome. Maybe never were. And to this day I have no idea how or why a man who shared two years of my family’s life became the slithering snake of every Wyoming girl’s nightmare.

And one more bit of strangeness. After our visit to Chaco Canyon and Navajo Lake we headed back to Denver and again drove through San Luis, hoping to thank Joseph again for his kindness with a gift of one of the weavings we had purchased in Chimayo. At the restaurant in front of which I had first encountered Joseph I ask about him. After all, everyone in San Luis knows everyone else. I describe his appearance: his tall slight build, his carpenter’s hands, his mustache and beard, his odd blue eyes, and I speak of his cousin with the flatbed trailer and Suburban. No one that we speak to has clue. They tell me: no blue-eyed Joseph lives in San Luis.