Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Friday, December 13, 2013


Cover Art – John Lennon

John Lennon and Me

as always, for Marcia

ONE (1974)
My first father-in-law, like my second, was not too keen on my appearance. While my second dislikes my personal barbering (I've cut my own hair the last forty years), Al Rossi, a union garment worker, thought I ought to dress better, and, man of action that he was, Al informed me in 1974 that he had purchased for me a three-piece suit. All I had to do was pick it out and up. I arrive at the address of the clothing manufacturer and enter. A salesman greets me and is apparently aware of the arrangements Al had made. “One of these, please,” he tells me with a gesture indicating I should pick from about a hundred different suits that hang nearby. “Pick what you like and I’ll find it in your size.” When he returns with my choice of style and color, so that I can try on the suit coat, I ask him to hold the book I carry, Daniel Kramer’s pictorial essay of a young Bob Dylan. “Are you a Bob Dylan fan?” he asks. When I tell him that I am and that I even teach a high school English class about Dylan, all salesman propriety evaporates as he bellows, “Hey, Marty, come on down. There’s another Dylan freak here.”

Well, Marty is the owner of the clothing company and an insanely serious Bob Dylan fanatic. He asks about my class and what Dylan bootlegs I might own. Satisfied that he has what I have, he takes me to his office, a cluttered room, the rear wall of which is covered with clothing swatches, a couple hundred or so. He asks me to take a peek at what’s under the more colorful swatches as he tells me of his Dylan fanaticism. He owns a dozen copies (with shrink wrap in tact) of every Dylan album; three copies of every book about Dylan, one of every brand and style guitar Dylan has been known to play (including three Stratocasters like the one Dylan went electric with at Newport); five original copies of the New York Times containing the Robert Sheldon review of Bobby D that helped launch his star; and other artifacts that add up to an overwhelming litany of Dylan memorabilia. He also speaks about his home recording studio where he has rerecorded every published Dylan song with the help of Philadelphia’s folk and rock and roll elite. He calls himself a Dylan parrot with perfect pitch. But the most telling indictment of his kookiness is what I find when I lift up my first clothing swatch: a photo of a teenage Dylan at a birthday party! In fact under every colorful swatch I lift is a very personal Dylan photograph. All are obviously not publicity photos. He goes on to explain that he hired a couple of professional burglars to steal the photos from Dylan’s Woodstock home, a photographer to reproduce them, and the US mail to return the originals to Dylan. “Only a week from heist to home again!” he quips.  To buy my silence, he ends our meeting with “On your way out, pick out a winter coat, on me!” which I did. I was still wearing that coat in 1977 when I met another rock and roll fanatic by the name of Nicki Indigo.

TWO (1975)
When I left the East Coast and settled in Denver in 1975, I bought a house on Pearl Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. It was the consummate 70’s bachelor’s abode. I generally had at least two roommates, and a card game or backgammon game was in the offing twenty-four seven. One night my housemate David returned home from work with a boyhood pal, Nicki. Nicki was deep into an On The Road adventure and had crossed paths with David in La Place Pigalle, a cocktail lounge/party bar in Brooks Tower adjacent to The Boston Half Shell where David and I worked. David hoped that I wouldn’t mind if Nicki spent the night and crashed on our living room couch. I was agreeable and we spent the night listening to records, mostly Dylan bootlegs, smoking ganja and tobacco, drinking Heineken and Grand Marnier, and telling stories, one story of which was the story of my winter coat. Nicki left in the morning but not without telling me that the previous evening had been one of the highlights of his travels: crossing paths with David, meeting me, and listening to my tall tales. “I didn’t come across the ghost of Neal Cassady as I had hoped, but I found you. Guess I’ll head back now to New York,” were his parting words.

THREE (1978)
A couple of years later, long after David had moved on, I received a letter from Nicki addressed to David. Because I had no forwarding address for David, I kept the letter as there was no return address on the envelope, just the words Nicki Eye. Once a month for a year or so, another Nicki Eye letter would appear in my mailbox. After the thirteenth epistle arrived, I decided to open one in the hope of finding a return address where I might send them. The address I found was for a mental institution in upstate New York. I gathered up all the Nicki Eye letters, added a note of my own informing Nicki that I had no idea of David’s whereabouts, and mailed the package to Utica State Hospital.

FOUR (1980)
In the fall of 1980, my wife Marcia was pregnant with our first child. On an Indian summer November day, we were in the backyard of our Pearl Street home putting our first summer garden to bed, turning over the soil and spreading the year’s compost, when the door bell rang. Marcia and our three dogs scampered into the house to see who had come calling. No sooner had Marcia disappeared into the house than she reappeared. “You had better answer the door. I have no idea who he is, but I don’t like his looks.”

When I arrive at the front door, my usually docile Malamute is barking insanely. A translation from Malamute to English would be something like “Come through that door and I will devour you like a snow shoe hare, balls, ears, eyes and hair!” After quieting all three dogs, Maku, Dylan Dog, and Cheiba Chieba, I step outside and greet an exceedingly strange looking young man, strange because half of his head is shaved and the other half flows to his shoulders, he’s wearing jump boots and camouflage, and tattoos seem to bubble up his neck and onto his cheeks. For a third eye he sports a Hindu swastika, and he’s holding in his left hand a duct taped cardboard portfolio that has a shoelace for a handle.

His rapid-fire speech must be pharmacologically induced: “Hello Ed. Remember me? I’m David’s friend Nicki. You put me up one night a few years ago. You told the story of the Dylan burglary and your coat. I still have those Bobby bootleg songs in my head. For three years I sung myself to sleep with them in Utica. Upon release after winning my lawsuit I knew I had to come and tell you “Thank You.” Thanks for returning my letters and thanks for letting me sleep on your couch. No one has ever shown me such kindness. Not even my lawyer who got me sprung and got me my small fortune. Really. Two days ago I was in a mental institution and now I’m here to say ‘Thank you.’ I even brought you a present.”

Nicki hands me the portfolio and asks after David. My only suggestion is that David liked the ladies at La Place Pigalle and perhaps one of them might know of his whereabouts, a suggestion Nicki takes in earnest. “Well thanks again. Bye, I’m off to La Place Pigalle.”

“Hey, Nicki, what about your portfolio?”

“It’s my gift to you. Last night, after my lawyer doled out my first ten grand in cash I went in search of a good time. Eventually I wound up in lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village to be exact, in the wee hours of morning. Even New York City is quiet and dark at 3 AM. That’s when I saw this bookstore with its lights on with two men inside. Inside the windows I could see that many of the bookshelves were covered in white butcher block paper and one of the guys was pinning artwork to the paper. The door was locked but when I knocked I was let in. Well, damn, you’ll never guess who the artist was. No, it wasn’t Bob Dylan, but it was someone just as famous. It was John Lennon! The owner of the store and John were good friends and both were extremely friendly to me, despite my De Niro-does-Travis Bickle hairdo and duds. Apparently John Lennon buys his books there because the proprietor guy was Lennon’s go-to-man for reading recommendations. And because the bookstore was in dire need of a financial infusion, Lennon was hosting on the very very down-lo a sale of left over lithographs from his Bag Series, the series of fourteen lithographs he created as a wedding present for Yoko Ono. No advertisements of the exhibition and sale; just a chance for the regulars of the bookstore to obtain some Lennon art and for the bookstore to obtain the funds necessary to avoid bankruptcy. Hell, I bought two lithographs on the spot and John signed them: one of John, Yoko, and the minister who married them, and one of John, Yoko, and their lawyer in bed. I took a cab to Kennedy, bought a ticket to Stapleton, flew here, and now I’ve said my ‘Thank you.’ Enjoy!” And off Nicki raced to catch the Number 5 on his way to La Place Pigalle. My last image of Nicki is a half a head of hair flowing out the open window of a bus.

Now, all through my meeting with Nicki on the porch I could hear Marcia, who stood just inside the door, repeating a mantra of sorts in a low voice. “Don’t let him in. Don’t let him in. Don’t let him in.” Now that Nicki was gone she had changed the mantra to “Leave it on the porch; don’t bring it in. Leave it on the porch; don’t bring it in.” Her pregnant woman’s intuition - which I discount – proves, however, to be right on when I open the portfolio. There are, indeed, two signed John Lennon lithographs inside; they have, however, apparently been “altered” by Nicki. Defaced and ruined might be more accurate, for sometime between last night’s 3 AM purchase in Manhattan and their 3 PM delivery to me in Denver, Nicki had taken liberties with Lennon’s art, so much so that I couldn’t tell what was Nicki’s art and what was John’s. Nicki had Magic Marker-ed the lithographs and glued instamatic photographs of himself and the pornography of others all over the imagery. Magazine cutouts of vaginas and David Bowie were glued helter skelter. Simply said: the devil was in the added details.

Marcia’s response to our viewing was reasonable: “Get them out of the house. Now!”

Now, I’m Irish. I never gave the Beatles much credence as superstars – they weren’t even in the same universe as Dylan – and, besides, they are English, and my prejudice against the British Empire runs generational-ly deep. Still, I was not about to throw the destroyed lithographs away. After all, they had been a Thank You present, no matter how perverse. And because I believe there is a solution to every problem, I wracked my brain and came up with an inspired one: I took the next Number 5 downtown, walked two blocks east on Colfax Avenue to Jerry’s Records that was owned by a poet friend of mine, John Loquidis, and pinned the lithographs to the ceiling of the record store where they remained for the next twenty-five years.

FIVE (1988)
In 1988, some eight years after the murder of John Lennon, a Public Radio announcement caught my ear. Apparently Yoko Ono, whose daughter lived in the Denver area, was hosting an art exhibition, “the first sale ever in America of John Lennon artwork.” Well stickler for detail that I am, I knew the hype to be false because I was privy to Lennon’s bookstore lithograph sale that had occurred the month before his murder. And since the John Lennon Art Show at The Oxford Hotel was but a short walk from my Wazee Street loft, I decided to go and check it out in the hopes of learning what the lithographs had looked like before Nicki Eye had enhanced them. So into the lobby of the Oxford Hotel I go. It is summer and I’m sporting my Stetson Panama, karate pants, Birkenstocks, and a Hawaiian shirt. I ask after Yoko. She’s not there. I ask after the curator and I’m directed to a guy in a three-piece suit. In the hopes of having a little fun, I begin by telling the curator that his advertisement for the show is a wee bit misleading. “This is not the first John Lennon Art show ever to be held in America.” He’s not simply defensive in his rebuttal but angry as well: “This most certainly is and who are you to say it’s not.” For the next minute or so I attempt to calm him down with my tale of the lithographs I own ending with “They’re hanging on the ceiling of Jerry’s Records, if you don’t believe me,” to which he responds with the snap of his fingers and a mean-spirited directive, “Kick his ass to the sidewalk.” Two very large men, body-guard types, appear out of nowhere and do as directed. My arms are twisted behind my back and I am removed from the Sage Room on whose walls hang the fourteen different lithographs comprising the Bag Series, guided through the lobby, past the Cruise Bar, to the front door, and I am tossed to the sidewalk by the two thugs who grin like Cheshire cats, their smile intimating that the sidewalk burns on my face are nothing compared to the harm I’ll suffer should I attempt re-entry. A fun-ster I may be but a fool I am not. I returned to my loft and my family secure in my belief that someday I would get to tell this story, and look here, I even brought along the lithographs!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Cover photo: Marcia Ward


Diaper Dance

as always
for Marcia

My first son was born at home thirty-two years ago when I was thirty-three. In an attempt to reinvent myself after six years of teaching followed by six years of waiting tables, I broke all the common sense rules of getting ahead. I was so Be Here Now / in the moment, at this time in my life, so into my belief that I had somehow been anointed, that I sold my house, quit my job, burned a decade’s worth of unfinished manuscripts in a fifty-five gallon drum, stowed a few cherished house hold items (Bob Dylan records, a blender, a dozen or so artworks) with my sister-in-law, and yardsale-ed the bulk of my (i.e., our – me and Marcia’s) belongings. Zen-ing out we called it, this approach to a less-is-more lifestyle. In search of a new home in some other place, we planned to hit the road for a year or so in my van with the money I had made on the sale of our Washington Park home and live off of the interest of the owner-will-carry loan I’d made to the buyer. So to celebrate my wife’s twenty-fifth birthday, the first three months of our son’s life, and our seeming good fortune, we went on a waiter’s holiday of sorts to a neighborhood restaurant, The Plum Tree, on Pennsylvania Street. We hoped to eat the best food Wash Park had to offer at a place outside the envelope of our new parent lives.

We arrive at The Plum Tree with a pocket full of cash and baby in arms. Among the happiest people in the world we could be counted as we approach the front door of The Plum Tree. I’m so fucking happy, in fact, that the first hint of unwelcome-ness encountered I let ride, although I tuck it away in my “un-pleasantries” file, when we are told by the maitre d’ that the restaurant is not yet open. “We open at five; you’ll have to come back then.” Well. I’m not into jewelry but I do wear a watch, a Timex inherited from my father a dozen years ago, and it lets me know that it is four fifty eight, almost four fifty-nine as the second hand is half way around the dial. It’s not so much the information imparted that I find off-putting, but the antagonistic and authoritarian tone of its delivery. This maitre de apparently is clueless when it comes to any notion of “friendly service.”

“Well, we’ll be back in a minute,” I deadpan to the grump of a host, adding, “I understand you have no liquor license but we can bring our own; so I’ll just spend the next sixty seconds procuring a bottle of wine from the liquor store across Bayaud and return when you are open,” careful to exaggerate the pronunciation and longevity of the two syllables, “O” and “pen.” My disdain is now rather transparent, as the maitre d’s strict enforcement of The Plum Tree’s hours of operation has moved his gracelessness from the “un-pleasantry” classification to one of aggressive, hostile prissy-ness.

When we return from the liquor store with our wine (a couple of bottles of Louis Jadot’s Beajoulas Villages – the same wine we drank four years ago during the first night Marcia and I spent together (it was the only red wine in Laramie that I could find that had a cork!) - I can’t help but notice the maitre d’s continued unwarranted incivility when he attempts to seat us in the completely empty restaurant at a back two top by the bathroom doors. Ignoring his request to follow him I direct Marcia to a corner four top by the front window where I spread our belongings - wine, Marcia’s serape, diaper bag, and my Stetson Panama – about the empty chairs. When the maitre d’ realizes we have not followed him his sigh of disbelief is as audible as is the clatter of fine china, silverware, and crystal made by me as I gather up the two unnecessary place settings and slide them to the side of the table top to make room for Passion, our infant, upon his removal from the Snuggly Marcia wears. Upon his awakening, propped up in my arms upon the French linen of the table top he beams as only a recently changed, breast milk fed, well rested baby can: beatifically. His cooing signals his appreciation for the newness of this environment. Most things outside our Pearl Street residence in his young life are “firsts.” Similarly, this is our first time eating out with him.

Soon a waiter arrives, a nice enough fellow, who seems unaware of the maitre d’s lack of appreciation for us. A bus boy removes the extra place settings as the waiter opens our Beajoulas while detailing the evening’s specials. We order extravagantly as, after all, we are on a waiter’s holiday, something I let our waiter in on, going as far as to mention I’d just resigned my position as head waiter at Denver’s premiere seafood establishment, The Boston Half Shell, in downtown Denver, a remark which is overtly code in the waiter world signifying that we are brothers of a sort and a great tip is in the offing, information that is not lost on our waiter as he quickly returns with a second round of warm bread without our asking. As I’ve said we are on a waiter’s holiday and it is Marcia’s birthday so we have ordered sundry appetizers, soup and salads, all of which we enjoy before we order our entrees.

Soon my Timex tells me it’s six and now the restaurant starts filling up with both walk-ins and reservations. A party of eight is seated next to us and I can’t help but notice that the maitre d’ pays them especial attention, addressing some by name, leading me to believe that they are regulars enamored of the trendy Plum Tree. With feigned aristocratic formality, the maitre d’ asks if he should inform their waiter that, as usual, they will be having two of every appetizer on the menu, all this while unfolding the napkins that sit fanned across the dinner plates which he places on the laps of all. When he turns away from the table to return to his station at the door and looks inadvertently in my direction, my smirk and glare shamelessly inform him that I found his fawning to be as pretentious as it was shallow, reminded, as I am, of every ass kissing insincere suck-up I have ever met. It’s amazing what an aggrieved countenance can reveal.

Soon our main course arrives: veal scaloppini for me and shrimp saltimbocca for Marcia. The smells are so flavorful that I ask that our waiter compliment the chef on our behalf. The plated presentation is as beautiful as the food is delicious. Unfortunately, I do not get to finish, because as I attempt a second bite, my reverie is ruined as I become aware that the maitre d’ is addressing me with a fervid hostility bordering on verbal assault. “The smell of shit, sir, is pervading the restaurant; please remove your child to the restroom.”

I look at Marcia. She is aghast and knows the maitre d’s assertions to be a lie as not two minutes before she had breast-fed Passion under the cover of baby blanket and serape and had Passion’s diaper been fouled, she would have known. In fact, she knows he’s not even wet his diaper, and this she silently mouths to me. “It’s dry.”

I stand abruptly and turn to face the maitre de behind me. I announce to him most poetically, “I am deaf to all but truth and hence know not a word you’ve uttered. Let’s try again. What did you say? Perhaps I can read your lips, their lies.”

“The smell of shit, sir, pervades my restaurant. Remove your baby to the bathroom or yourselves from this restaurant!” Time dissolves as does place. I am everyman who has ever suffered prejudice, be it for any reason, great or small. The spirit of an angry Metamora in the person of the tragedian Edwin Forrest overtakes the waiter on a waiter’s holiday. All indignities ever suffered at the hands of titled aristocracy inspire my next moves as I ask, “You mean I do not get to eat this food?” And as the maitre d’ responds “That’s right, now leave my restaurant,” I clear the table where I sat of wine and water and their respective glassware, my veal and china, bread and bread plate, forks, knives and spoon, and respond, “Well, if I don’t get to eat this food, then no one will.”

Needless to say, my host is speechless and agog as I turn to address the other diners in the room. “Excuse me, but I can not abide his lies. The smell of shit does not pervade the room, just the odor of his lies and his foppish pretentiousness. Come on, have we not the right to eat here, or are children simply not welcome among such young professionals as yourselves. Please, tell this man he’s crazy. What have we done that we should be ostracized as he would ostracize us? Please stand up for us, the family that we are.” No one does. All return to eating, ashamed or embarrassed to take a side in this most inane confrontation. None know of our maitre d’s earlier passive aggressive actions.  I look to Marcia who has put Passion in the Snuggly. She intimates with eyes and tilt of head that she would like to leave. I agree as who knows what could possibly come of my sitting back down to eat at an empty table. To punctuate my position that it is Marcia and I who have been wronged, I clear Marcia’s setting as well. I leave a fifty-dollar tip for our waiter who stands dumbfounded at a nearby table without asking for the check. Because Marcia’s wineglass did not shatter when I swept it to the floor, I mazel tov it with my left Birkenstock in a dramatic mockery of a goose-step. Its conversion from stemware to a thousand shards makes an explosive noise similar to a gunshot, a sound which is followed by the swinging kitchen doors exploding open and slamming against decorative hammered copper of the doorway’s border through which passes a gentleman I take to be the chef given the professional carving knife in his right hand. Marcia and I make our way to the front door slowly as the chef surveys the room, paying especial attention to our empty table surrounded as it is by broken china, shattered glass, splattered wine, silverware, and upturned, uneaten scaloppini and saltimbocca. We soon exit not without the help of the chef’s left hand that pushes on my shoulder, so forcefully, that I stumble almost knocking Marcia and our child to the sidewalk. The restaurant door can be heard being locked behind us. Upon arrival at my van we catch our breath and turn back to look upon The Plum Tree, the upscale trendy little eatery where we had hoped to celebrate. The chef stands at the front door, still holding his carving knife and glowering. Given the crimson glow of his countenance and the fogged lenses of his eyewear I deduce that he’s as mad as I am - me for the indignity I’ve suffered; him for the havoc with which I countered his maitre d’s obvious prejudice against children.

Marcia opens the side door of the van to stow the diaper bag, but before she can close it I ask her to give me Passion’s diaper. Still under the influence of my anger I am short with her when she asks “Why?”

“Just give it to me. I’m not finished with The Plum Tree. Just give me the diaper and trust me. This is not over. In fact, please go next door to the Health Food Store and bring some people out. I want witnesses for whatever is about to go down.” Marcia lays Passion on the mattress in the back of my van and changes his diaper. She gives me the unsoiled cloth diaper, which I affix with a rubber band to the end of a folding umbrella that I carry in my van’s side door. The umbrella is the staff of the cotton diaper flag that I will carry into battle. I fearlessly approach The Plum Tree waving my white flag of surrender, a visual proof that the maitre d’s assertion that Passion had filled his diaper with something stinky was bogus. My body language as I waive the diaper at The Plum Tree’s patrons through the window is obvious in its demand that I receive an apology from someone, that at minimum, further discourse is required.

And then out he comes, the chef. He no longer holds the carving knife but the language of his hands says that he wants to strangle me. But as he approaches with his hands raised neck high, I poke the diaper in his direction. It is a comedic dance we do as he feigns and lunges and I parry his advances with a wag of the diaper to his face. Around and round we go as I counter every move he makes, diaper to face with every lunge. Our unrehearsed ballet lasts more than a minute before he rushes headlong with accelerating speed into me, knocking me up against the side of my van. In my heart I know I’ve Charlie Chaplin-ed him and he’s assaulted me. A half dozen witnesses stand on the sidewalk outside the corner heath food store.

He’d like to slam my head against the side of my van but all he can really do, given the people on the corner, is threaten me. “Set foot in my restaurant and I’ll kill you,” he says, to which I reply, “The only way I’ll ever set foot in your restaurant is for you to buy me the dinner I did not get to eat.” He turns to leave and as he does, I remove the diaper from the umbrella and throw it at him. It unfurls like a parachute after passing the zenith of its trajectory before ensconcing his head like a manta ray its prey. Upon its landing he reacts as if he’s been shit upon. His head dances like a hanged man’s in an attempt to remove the cloth without using his hands. His comedy is as sad as mine had been ballet-like.

Needless to say, the chef/owner of The Plum Tree never does offer to buy us dinner. We both attempt to press charges with the police against each other. He wants compensation for his broken dishes and the dinners I trashed and I want him charged with assault. The police decide not to get involved. Still I’d like to think my voodoo diaper dance was part of the equation of The Plum Tree closing before Marcia’s next birthday. Like the butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon that leads to a storm in Belize, perhaps my waving of the diaper in June summoned the winds of recession that bankrupted The Plum Tree in October

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


A Sad Simple Truth

as always, for Marcia

The last time I was summoned for jury duty a sad simple truth got me excused.

Arriving in the jury holding room, my number is selected and I find myself in a pool of twenty or so prospective jurors that is to be whittled down to twelve. The judge addresses us with a seriousness befitting the case: “This trial concerns heavy-duty narcotics trafficking. You will be hearing the testimony of police officers and confidential informants who the defense might characterize as liars. So before we begin jury selection, I have a question to ask of you all. Do any of you believe a police officer might lie while testifying?”

I scan the room.  Everyone’s eyes are darting nervously as they look around the room. All are wondering: Is this some sort of trick question? Does the judge really want us to answer? I raise my hand and am called upon to speak.

“Your Honor, not only do I believe a police officer might lie while testifying, I know for a fact that they do. I was a defense witness in a case here in Denver back in 1979. One Charles Ross was charged with assaulting a police officer. I was at the scene, not ten feet away. Two police officers testified. As did I. Their accounts which dovetailed perfectly were entirely fabricated as I had witnessed the event, and I know what I saw happen. Based on my testimony and other inane assertions on the part of the prosecution, the jury acquitted Mr. Ross of all charges. As I said: I don’t believe a police officer might lie, I know they do.” No surprise here: the prosecution dismisses me. But before I am escorted from the courtroom seven other jurors raise their hands to assert their belief that officers might lie while testifying. 

Here is the simple sad truth of Charlie Ross and his acquittal.

Charlie Ross was a student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder and Allen Ginsberg’s personal secretary. Poetry was our connection as I was heavily involved in producing Denver Poets Day in August of 1979, an event that brought together scores of poets from Denver and Boulder. I collaborated with the bassist Rich Sallee that day and I must say we rocked, as did scores of others including Allen Ginsberg, Larry Lake, my wife Marcia, Ann Waldman, Ken Babs, Andy Clausen, Eileen Miles, and Charlie Ross. It was an exceedingly hot eight hours in the sun as the event ran from 11 AM to 7 PM in Denver’s Civic Center Amphitheater. It was a very emotional day as well. The previous Denver Poets Day in 1978 had honored the notorious Colorado poet James Ryan Morris who had died soon thereafter, and his widow, Diana, her presence at this year’s event – a memorial of sorts for Jimmy - kept the specter of human mortality in play. Tensions between poet egos – academic and street – combined with shade-less triple digit temperatures also contributed to everyone’s exhaustion at day’s end. Wrung out we were. To recuperate many participants decided to head to the Satire Lounge on East Colfax for Mexican food, refreshment and more poetry shoptalk, myself and wife included. Diana Morris asked if her seven-year-old daughter Pagan could ride with me and Marcia as Diana planned on spending a little adult time with and giving a ride to a group of her deceased husband’s friends. Marcia and I agreed to look after Pagan until Diana regrouped with us at The Satire.

Now it’s approximately 8 PM on a summer Saturday night and Pete’s Satire Lounge is packed tight as an unopened pack of Camels. Marcia, Pagan and I are among the first dozen to arrive, and we are seated at a large corner table and the hostess is made aware that another dozen or so are likely to join us. We agree to make the best of the crowded accommodations, assuring the hostess and our waitress that we will stand and sit as need be. Charlie Ross and I are more or less co-hosting this gathering, with Charlie welcoming late arrivals from Boulder and me those from Denver. Pitchers of beer and plates of nachos fill the table as people talk up a storm. A half hour or so into the this impromptu poets rendezvous, above the din, I hear the agitated voice of Diana Morris and I immediately leave the confab of poets and make my way in her direction. A waitress, not ours, is telling Diana that she will have to wait to be seated. When Diana, ignoring the request of the waitress, makes a move in my direction, the out of the loop waitress with her body’s shoulder blocks Diana’s path. She even stiff-arms Diana with her right hand while holding a cocktail tray of drinks in her left. Both the body block and stiff arm prove to be foolishly provocative moves, for Diana asserts with almost divine authority, “No one keeps me from my daughter, bitch,” and throws a mean right hook, knocking the waitress, the cocktails, and civility to the floor. The crowd around the front door dissipates and Diana looms over the stunned waitress. I spy the bartender picking up the phone and whisk Diana out the front door and beg her not to reenter as I step back inside and tender an apology to the waitress: “I’m sorry for what happened. You’ll never know the circumstances surrounding this day. That lady just left a memorial for her dead husband after eight hours in the sun, and you stood between her and her seven-year-old daughter. Again, I apologize and am sorry. Here, please accept this for your troubles, and I hand her a fifty-dollar bill, before exiting to attend to Diana who I find on the sidewalk, contemplating the use of her gun. Her right hand, inside her fringed vest, its fingers fondle the steel of her thirty-eight that hides there. I know she never leaves her cabin in Wondervu without it.

“Diana, you have to leave. The police are on their way. I saw the bartender dialing. I’ll bring Pagan to you later. Please, I am your friend and I’m begging you. Go, Pagan will be fine and we’ll meet up at Jesse’s later.” Keep in mind; I am speaking to one of the most intense persons I have ever met. Fierce, addled, capable, agitated, mean, gun-totting, upset, angry, grieving, vindictive, vengeful, crazy, and on the verge of mayhem are but a baker’s dozen applicable descriptions of the present and imminent danger with which I am confronted on this hot summer Colfax Avenue sidewalk Saturday night. Distant sirens grow louder as Diana contemplates her next move. “Diana, Pagan does not need your being arrested. Please go before it’s too late.” Mention of Pagan brings common sense into the mix and Diana thanks me as she gets into her Subaru, which is parked illegally, blocking as it does the Colfax entrance to the Satire parking lot. But instead of heading east Diana accelerates into the parking lot at a high rate of speed and purposefully smashes into a Cadillac parked diagonally on the west side of the lot, twice, seriously damaging the rear quarter panel and rear end of the formerly cherry sedan. Then without assessing traffic she backs out haphazardly onto Colfax and races east right through red lights at Race, Vine, Josephine and York. I’m not sure if I am dreaming given the last three minutes of my life. But, guess what, the craziness is just beginning.

Back inside, I realize that I don’t want to be here when the police arrive so I gather up Marcia and Pagan and suggest that Charlie and his intimate crew (he’s got four Boulder poets and two children riding in his van) follow me, as we had originally planned to convene back at Drew Becker’s house after dinner to listen to recordings of the day, and Charlie did not know where Drew lived.

Now both Charlie and I had parked our vans in the Satire parking lot on the east side. Since we were going to head towards Elizabeth Street where Drew lived and because the south east exit of the parking lot was now awash in police activity, there were two squad cars and a couple of police motor cycles clogging that end of the lot, I suggest to Charlie that we simply back out onto Colfax and avoid the boondoggle at the Race Street exit. It will be a hard maneuver so I tell Charlie I’ll guide him backwards when it’s safe to do so.

I am behind his van guiding him rearward when a voice out of nowhere that brooks no dissent barks out orders: “Stop right there. You just backed into that Cadillac. Exit your vehicle with your hands up.” Now only two people on earth know the circumstances surrounding the damage to Pete’s -the owner of the Satire Lounge - Cadillac, and I am one of them. Furthermore, not only does the officer ordering Charlie out of his van not know what I know, he also is apparently unaware I am even present, standing between Charlie’s van and the damaged goods that is Pete’s Caddy.

I make my presence known by stepping into plain view of the officer who has come out of hiding and is now standing by Charlie’s door and announce, “If this van just hit that Cadillac, I guess I’m an unsubstantial and invisible man, a ghost, because it would have had to run me over in order to hit it, seeing as how I’ve been behind it guiding my friend the whole time,” an assertion to which the officer has no reply or rebuttal. It is apparent to him that I am giving lie to his charge that Charlie hit Pete’s car. The silence is as deafening as the situation is volatile. The electricity in the air has my neck hair standing up. Where can this conversation possibly go from here? The cop needs an out but can’t come up with one, so I do. Not pressing my knowledge that I’ve caught him in a lie, I ask the officer politely to help us back both of our vans out onto Colfax so Charlie can follow me, a request the cop takes up without any further talk of Charlie having damaged the Cadillac. The officer steps out onto Colfax blocking the right lane. I back up out onto the Fax and head east with Charlie doing likewise. We do not run the red lights at Vine and Race, as had Diana, but before reaching York I notice a police car in the left hand lane motioning with siren and lights that Charlie (whose van is immediately behind mine), that Charlie pull over to the curb. I do so as well and exit my van to see what’s going on, as I fear further police inappropriateness. I just caught one lying and can’t imagine any reason why Charlie’s been made to pull over. I am all ears and eyes as I approach the scene.

Charlie is clearly upset and bewildered. Angry as well. A huge cop exits the shotgun side of the squad car and tells Charlie to exit his vehicle. Charlie’s window is down and he asks, agitatedly,  why he’s being stopped. The officer provides no answer and again tells him to exit his vehicle. Charlie hesitates. Given that another cop had tried to pin an accident on him less than two minutes ago Charlie is hesitant, reluctant, fearful, wide-eyed, and not ready to comply. He is not about to simply roll over. Again, he asks why he’s been pulled over and this time the cop comes up with a reason: “the George Carlin poster in your rear van window is blocking your view and that makes this an unsafe vehicle,” to which Charlie replies with unfettered disbelief and exasperation, “Jesus Christ, I sometimes sleep in my van and the poster affords me privacy. I live in Boulder and have been stopped for traffic violations and no other officer has ever mentioned the poster. Hell, commercial vans have spray painted rear windows, so thieves can’t see what’s inside and semis have only side view mirrors” a retort which seems to infuriate the cop if his next actions are any indication.

In one deft move the cop reaches though Charlie’s open window with his left hand, depresses the handle and opens the van door. With his right hand he grabs Charlie by his long hair and the back of his neck, forcing Charlie to exit and move rearwards along the side of the panel van, out of sight of Mary Lu, Charlie’s girlfriend, who rides shot-gun. Once Charlie is toe to toe with him, the cop exclaims, “Well this ain’t Boulder, punk, and your hippie van ain’t no big rig” and then the six foot six, two hundred and fifty pound cop slams the five foot six, one hundred and twenty pound Charlie face down across the hood of the patrol car, following up the slam down with a half a dozen whacks to the back of the skull with a night stick he removes from his utility belt. A bloodied and broken nosed Charlie is then handcuffed and taken away in a second police car that has arrived because there already is a shadowy third person in the back seat driver’s side, someone not in uniform, an earlier arrestee, perhaps. This is the second act of utter bizarreness that again I seem to be the only witness to, as neither the people in Charlie’s van nor the officer driving the cop car, given his sightline, could see what actually transpired. Only me as I stand in the street on the driver’s side of my van, not ten feet from where Charlie was assaulted.

Later that night I bail Charlie out of jail. He’s been charged with numerous offenses, crimes such as resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, disturbing the peace, but I note, not with driving with an obstructed view. Well, to make a long story short, Charlie is offered a deal. Plead to disturbing the peace or some such nonsense and all the more serious charges will be dropped. Sounds easy, but poets are not a simple lot. Many, you might say, are principled. And as Keats wrote, truth is beauty. Thus, Charlie poetically tells the DA to take his deal and shove it up the ass of the officer who attacked him, one Officer Brooks. Charlie wants a jury trial and he eventually gets it. His girlfriend’s brother-in-law, a Denver lawyer, represents him. I am to be the defense’s primary witness, along with my wife who can place me at the scene. The DA is annoyed that Charlie did not take the offered deal and so he plays hard ball, going as far as to sequester me away from Marcia during the trial, as if a husband and wife would not be on the same page. The DA has never bothered to depose me because, after all, he has two officers who will testify that Charlie came out of his van swinging and that Charlie’s injuries were a result of Officer Brooks having to subdue him. A third prosecution witness, a wanna be cop police dispatcher, who was doing a Saturday night ride-along in the back seat of Brook’s cruiser, will also testify that Charlie came out swinging. This means that when I take the stand only Charlie’s attorney is in the know as to what I will say.

First defense council exposes my background. A Jesuit educated prep-ster, with a Bachelors Degree in Humanities and Technology from Drexel University in Philadelphia, my recent six year stint as an English teacher and president and contract negotiator for the Woodbury Teacher’s Association present me as someone quite different from the long-haired sleeping-in-his-van Texas hippie that Charlie appears to be. My testimony, along with the rehearsed pat testimony of law enforcement, not to mention the unbelievable assertion that skinny little Charlie would attack the hulking buff Brooks, left little doubt that this hot Saturday night altercation was nothing more than a machismo cop taking out his dislike of the brazen and long-haired (and possibly of George Carlin as well) on an innocent kid who had the audacity to be upset at being harassed. The cops’ rendition was perceived as the utter fabrication it was and a jury of his peers exonerated Charlie on all counts. It’s hard to believe that the DA had ever bought it; chances are he simply resented Charlie for telling him to take his deal and shove it. And Charlie Ross didn’t stop there. He later filed a civil suit against the officers involved, alleging false arrest and assault, a case that would drag through the courts for years. Unfortunately, during the time Charlie’s civil case snaked its way about the legal system, we had a falling out – a separate story in itself having to do with Gregory Corso, LSD, and a female black-belt bouncer at the Blue Note on the Boulder mall – and we lost track of each other.

Then one day in late 1984 I get a call from Charlie on a Sunday night. He informs me that earlier that afternoon he had learned that his civil suit is going to trial on Tuesday, after having been postponed almost ad infinitum. After all this time, after having been falsely arrested and beaten by a Denver cop, not to mention, abused by a legal system that forced him to go into debt to his lawyer, that he might win some satisfaction, not to mention money, was a godsend to Charlie’s impoverished family. I mean poetry is truth and beauty but it is neither food nor clothing nor rent. He was calling to see, despite our differences surrounding the Gregory Corso affair, if I would testify again. He was hoping to scrape up airfare from others in the commune where he lived with Mary Lu and their four children.

“Of course” is my response. “Let me know when you’ll be landing and I’ll even pick you up at Stapleton. You can stay with me and Marcia.” He tells me he will call back in the morning once he knows his flight info.

Now personally, I’m looking forward to Tuesday as I’ve always wondered whether Officer Brooks ever came out of the S&M closet that was his police uniform. My gaydar, no matter how inexact the science behind it, had led me to believe that the police dispatcher in the back seat of Brooks patrol car that August Saturday night had more than a love of blue in common with the cop. At trial I had surmised that Brooks was showing off his sadism for the benefit of someone, most likely his buddy in the back seat, who, along with his partner in the front seat, had lied about Charlie’s beating and arrest. I know that neither could see what went on between Charlie and Brooks given their sight lines from the driver’s side of the patrol car. Yet testify they had!

Well anyway, Charlie never does call on Monday morning to let me know when he’ll arrive in Denver. So Monday night I call him back to find out the system had screwed the hippie in him once again. Apparently, his lawyer, after all this time wanted money. For himself! The City of Denver had offered a deal: settle for attorney’s fees, the city’s and Charlie’s, or risk winning nothing. Charlie’s lawyer, now divorced from Mary Lu’s sister, told Charlie that if he didn’t accept the deal, attorney’s fees without any compensation to the plaintiff, he’d drop him as a client and sue Charlie for payment of his fees, a situation Charlie couldn’t afford, given his alternative communal lifestyle. Besides, Charlie admitted he had not been able to scrape together airfare to come to Denver. Thus he took the deal, and everybody got paid, everybody except Charlie, a lamentable and simple sad truth.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Larry's Lake Is Leaking

cover art: Summit Lake -watercolor inks- Edwin Forrest Ward

Larry’s Lake is Leaking

as always
for Marcia 

The way men meet surely colors the nature of their friendship. This is the story of how I come to meet three of the more influential men in my life: Larry Lake, Jimmy Morris, and Robert Alexander.

I meet Larry Lake at a poetry reading I host in Englewood south of the Denver County line, at a bar a friend of mine manages just off Broadway on West Floyd, the Casual Lounge. Half way through my roster of mostly morose and self-absorbed poets, Lake injects himself one night into the somber sobriety of words like a shot of ecstasy. Even though he’s come to mess with my event, I take notice and am inspired by what happens. I appreciate the way he settles onto the backless barstool, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth one moment and dancing in his fingers the next. After fumbling in his ditty bag to produce a handful of small press poetry chapbooks that he places reverently on the cocktail table in front of him, Lake says nothing while he stares around the room, slowing time almost to a standstill, smoking the next in his perpetual chain of unfiltered Camels.

Lake begins speaking with an irreverent diss on one and all: “There’s not a poet in the house. You all know nothing. So listen up, pay attention and learn!” before presenting some of the finest poetry I’ve ever heard. Ignoring my agitation at his assertion, I’m enchanted by his delivery, its meter, cadence, tone and imagery, its candor and originality. Nonetheless, I’m still pissed, as this reading - of which I am the host - is the product of my and Marcia’s very hard work. I’d drawn and hand-lettered a dozen posters that, after bicycling from the Highlands to Wash Park, we’d hung in scattered bars and hipster hangouts in the hopes of gathering together those interested in poetry. And we’d succeeded, if fifty people in the side room of an Englewood bar are any measure. And here’s this arrogant, albeit talented, bearded cross of a boxer and an artist, one third hippie, one third beatnik, one third US Air Force asshole, dumping on my scene. His countenance (a cross between Al Pacino and Charlie Manson) and physical presence (broad chest-ed and muscular) invite no rebuke from me or anyone else in the room, and Larry Lake leaves the lounge after his performance without anyone challenging his contention that we all are clueless.

Returning home with Marcia, I stay up late turning my anger into art and write one of the first fine poems of my life, the first lines of which I still remember although the poem itself was lost years ago in a fifty gallon drum fire I’d set to un-clutter my life: “Larry’s Lake is leaking/ a puddle of piss in an adolescent bed sheet.”

The month after Lake’s first appearance at POEMS LIVE, he returns and attempts a redo of his challenge and put down: same smoke and spreading of chap books, same delay and stare, but after his assertion that “there is not a poet in the house,” I leap upon a cocktail table in the middle of the room and rattle off from memory my “Larry’s Lake is Leaking poem with a blistering ferocity that brooks no dissent. My five-minute attack without benefit of burning cigarette is delivered with smoke and awe, so much so that Lake abandons the stage and leaves the room, the bar, and Englewood, but not without first catching my eye and oddly winking.

Not long after this defense of my authority as a poet, things happen for me in the literary world. I’m offered a gig as the host of a bi-monthly poetry series at a downtown town all night coffee house, Café Nepenthes. The new art magazine in Denver, WESTWORD, publishes a story about poetry in Colorado wherein Allen Ginsburg and I are characterized as the figureheads of two flourishing and complementary literary scenes. But most importantly, I am asked by Denver’s Society for the Advancement of Poetics to do a feature reading with one James Ryan Morris, one of Colorado’s most celebrated poets, his infamy equal to the fame of Thomas Hornsby Ferril. Morris’ face can be seen on the side of the Colorado Convention Center’s tile mural homage to the men and women who have shaped Colorado culture. In the mural Morris hangs with Neal Cassady, Corky Gonzales and Stan Brakhage.
Now I had heard James Ryan Morris read twice, once at a reading in Boulder as a substitute for William Burroughs who had been hospitalized after an overdose and at Denver Poets Day in Civic Center when Morris read mano mano with no one other than my personal poetic nemesis, Larry Lake. Apparently Lake and Morris were old friends who had published and edited Denver’s first alternative art newspaper, The Mile High and Underground in the late Sixties. Both times I heard Morris recite, it was so archetypal and powerful, I had looked hard at my own abilities as a writer, leaving me to wonder: Do I have anything really to say? Morris was the perfect modern poet, his art characterized by his exacting use of the vernacular wherein less was certainly more, the antithesis of the Whitman-esque long line espoused by most contemporary poets. To this day I use a Morris poem, “A Poem on Love”, in all my wedding ceremonies:
                         She said:“you’re sexy
                        and I dig you.
                        I sd:
                        “you too, and I’ve eyes.”

                        Now I ask you,
                        what can come of that?

Now let me tell you, when I was asked to share the stage with Morris I couldn’t fit my head through my front door as it swelled with pride and a false sense of accomplishment. But then, as it always does, reality set in: that I was but a novice, hardly even a journeyman, compared to the master poet Jimmy Morris, shrunk more than my head. I mean the night I heard him read in Boulder, Morris was the Big Bang compared to the Black Hole that was Gregory Corso and Antler, the poets he shared the stage with. And at Denver Poets Day where I thought I had burned brightly, Morris’ poetry - and Lake’s likewise - so overshadowed mine that I never again performed any of the material I had presented that day.

Knowing that we were going to read together at Global Village I took it upon myself to go meet Morris and, unannounced, I showed up at his bookstore, Croupier Books, on 17th Avenue a few blocks east of The Brown Palace Hotel. Having biked from my Washington Park abode on South Pearl Street, I walked into Morris’ storefront still wearing a mask, a surgeon’s facial dust mask, an act which prompted Morris to un-holster a thirty-eight and aim it in my general direction. Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball were cracking wise on a small black and white in the corner of the sparsely appointed bookstore; still I could hear the cocking of the trigger above the canned laughter. No one ever removed a mask as quickly as I did before raising my hands as a show of submission. Morris had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen on a human being as well as the most intense stare. His body language asked “Are you crazy?” Coincidentally he reminded me of my father on a very archetypal Irish level, especially given the hat he wore and the importance of alcohol in his life. Well, to quicken the story of two poets meeting, we made short work of getting acquainted, not to mention sharing the drugs of which we were in possession.

In the weeks leading up to our reading, I visited Morris many times, all the while knowing my work was not even in the same universe as his. Intimidated with a capital I
is what I was. And rightly so. I filled all my spare time trying to create new work but knew it all to be contrived and vain and sophomoric. But as fate would have it, I never got to fail in comparison to Jimmy, as I never got to share his stage because Morris overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates and died a week before our scheduled reading. For me, that I was let off the hook of having to read poetry with Morris was the silver lining in the cloud that was his death. I did however attend his funeral a result of which was that Marcia and I became acquainted with his widow Diana and other denizens of Denver’s older bohemian scene.

A month or so after Morris death, my ex wife, a Hollywood film producer -  Frank Stallone was her leading man in a half dozen films she produced -  contacted me. Apparently Dylan Dog, a female bearded collie Carol and I had raised in Jersey and whose ownership Carol won in our divorce – had taken a vicious dislike to her second husband, a wealthy and cocaine addled talent scout who filled the contestant slots on sundry television game shows. The dog just knew the devil in him, I guess, because D Dog snarled and growled whenever Mr Talent Scout came in the room.  Carol had called to inquire if I wanted Dylan back as she could no longer keep her. For Carol it was either her husband or the dog and for the dog it was either Denver or a shelter. Although I already had two large dogs, a black lab and a blue-eyed Malamute that a short term girlfriend had saddled me with upon her departure from our relationship – after conferring with Marcia – I agreed to come to Los Angeles and rescue Dylan Dog.

Now when our new friend, Diana Morris, learned of our plans to travel to Los Angeles to retrieve D Dog, Diana insisted that we visit one of her deceased husband’s good friends in Venice, Baza Alexander. Baza, the founder of The Temple of Man – the religious organization in which I would eventually be ordained as a minister - was quite famous as an artist and a beatnik and a minister. On the day I arrived in Los Angeles when I rang the bell of Baza’s door, I had no idea of what to expect: perhaps a shooting gallery or an orgy, as I associated both scenarios with Jimmy Morris. But what I found was Baza, the artist (his collage and print work are in the Smithsonian) who immediately treated me like a brother. A few minutes after informing him of what was up with mutual friends in Denver (Diana Morris, Steve Wilson, Stan Brakhage and Angelo di Benedetto) he suggested I visit Frank Rios, one of Jimmy’s best friends and connections, who lived in the neighborhood.

Five minutes and a short walk later Marcia and I are in the living room of Frank T. Rios, one of Los Angeles’ most famous poets. I’m filling Frankie in on what’s doing with the people he knows in Denver, when he interrupts and calls out: “Hey Larry come here. There’s a friend of Jimmy’s here from Denver who you might know,” a request that heralds the arrival from the kitchen of one Larry Lake, who passes through the beaded curtain of the doorway like a bear through beetle kill pine: effortlessly and with no regard for civility or damage done, barking, “Hey, I hear there’s a guy in Denver who’s been goin’around reading a nasty poem about me. Do you know anything about him?”

“That would be me,” I respond as I look him in the eye and wink, somehow knowing that we will become the best of friends, which we are - on and off - for the next ten years.

In fact, I introduce Larry to his last wife and the mother of his only child. Lake publishes my first book and broadside and nominates me for ordination in the Temple of Man. He sees to it that I am given the very first Tombstone for Poetry an annual award given by the James Ryan Morris Memorial Foundation. After Larry is shot twice by the film maker, Continental Catterson, in an argument over art, it is my hand Larry holds upon awakening from surgery, and it is I who convince the docs to double his post surgery morphine dosage given my knowledge of his tolerance for opiates. Marcia and I attend the home birth of his only son. On the dark side, the boxer in him sucker punches me only once, an act I respond to in kind and two-fold. Our families on occasion spend holidays together and summers we watch our sons play little league. There are those times we do acid together welcoming dawn from the roofs of different downtown Denver skyscrapers (you’d be surprised how easy access is). As brothers in ministry, we drive non-stop together eighteen hours to visit a dying Baza Alexander, and, most importantly, Lake teaches me the duties of being an artist, things Morris had taught Lake, things Morris – like my own father - would have taught me had not their addictions laid them low and early.

Indeed, I could say, Jimmy Morris gave me insight into what it means to be a poet and artist and Larry Lake leaked passion all over that perspective.  Together with Baza Alexander, Larry Lake and James Ryan Morris produced the contract I signed with my muse.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Cover Art: Pocono Mountains - watercolor inks
 Edwin Forrest Ward


            Our hitchhiking adventures, me and Lucy’s, on Cape Cod are a bust. Constant rain, no sex, sand in our shoes, grit in our underwear, humidity so high it’s cloudlike, sleeping bags wet, two day old bagels already moldy, uncountable insect bites. That we are not nearly as inspired or as engaged as we were when we first hooked up in Cape Hatteras after meeting on the road is what I’d write in a letter to myself if I had an address. First class, of course, for a dime, up twenty-five percent since the spring’s eight-cent rate. Our agreed-upon plan, that we will go wherever a ride takes us, might need revision, but it is our plan at this point.

            Ignoring my disappointment and frustrations, over the course of the next few days, we slowly make our way west. Nature can be kind and it is the morning Lucy and I eat blackberries we find alongside the road and listen to the wup wup wup wup wups of horny ruffled grouse. The birdsong and fruit help to evaporate Lucia’s sullenness – a mood engendered by my inadvertent revelation that I am not yet officially divorced from my wife.  The upswing in her mood is further enhanced when we catch a wild ride in a soup-ed up Dodge Charger with a mustachioed dude selling illegal radar detectors. Bucko, his name as well as the verbiage on his license plate, travels from small town to small town with a trunk full of black market electronics. He brags that he will never pay taxes, not with the likes of Richard Nixon playing king, an anti-establishment attitude that Lucia affirms she can relate to. I, too, find his outlaw braggadocio refreshing and I paraphrase Dylan, reminding us all that, as oxymoronic as it sounds, honesty is required to live outside the law, to which our speedster adds an addendum: a 440 cubic inch V-8 also helps when it comes to out running the law.  Bucko deposits us just west of the Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County Pennsylvania after a day of druid spiraling around north Jersey and western New York. From there, our rides are sometimes short and local; we seem to zigzag north and south as well as west. For the most part, under canopies of pleasant and dry summer starry night skies, Lucy and I sleep aside each other in separate down bags wherever we find ourselves to be, when the odds of securing a ride indicate the practicality of calling it a day. Daylight hours we spend a lot of time at rural county crossroads in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Sometimes, even miles apart, such intersections look the same. The people who offer us rides all have the good intention of taking us further: a trucker moving produce to Harrisburg; a California university chaplain returning home for the summer to visit his parents on their farm in Lancaster; steelworkers looking for work in Bethlehem after being laid off in York, and my favorite, two different carloads of teenage locals out looking for fun, from towns sixty miles apart, who, after a phone call to arrange it, pony express us to a third crossroad of a town in Western Pennsylvania, a hundred and twenty miles from where we met the first carload. Something I learn about the small towns of Central Pennsylvania is that adolescents play there a game they call “splunking” wherein one drives on moonlit nights in the thick of the mountain forests with headlights off to, one, scare the hell out of anyone not knowledgeable of the road and of the practice, and, two, for the sheer excitement of enjoying the marvel of a large rising moon above the treetops serving as the only source of light thirty miles from the nearest town zipping along at sixty miles an hour, an experience that turns most serene after my initial fright abates, standing next to Lucia, her hair a wake of jet black voodoo in the wind, holding on to the roll bar affixed to the rear of the Ford cab, swaying with the turns in the road, side-to-side, leaning true against the torque of curving roads, knowing right now that we are sharing this experience of speed and moon and danger and delight.

            Finally out of the sylvan woods of William Penn, we spend a night in Cincinnati aside a concrete bike path under a pedestrian walkway spanning some tributary of the Ohio River. An unseen industrial area generates a humming that’s matched by the rumbling of trucks on Interstate 275. Our night of uneasy urban unsound sleep dictates that we alter our modus operandi: we will still go in whatever direction a ride takes us, but we will pass or quit a ride early rather than ending up in a city from here on out.

            Our first multi-state ride takes us from the outskirts of Cincinnati to western Missouri, and turns into a two-day adventure, the first hour of which is touch and go, or should I say, as you will see, a time of touch and no-go.

             Dave, a law student at The University of Missouri in Kansas City, stops to pick up us on the interstate. He’s driving a Mustang and pulling on a trailer, some kind of small, sleek, most modern sailboat, a dual pontoon-ed catamaran. After securing our backpacks to the bridging structure of the catamaran, we squeeze into the backseat of Dave’s exceedingly crowded car. Dave has gear for fishing, boating, mountain climbing, and target shooting (rifle and bow). He even has a parachute. After a quick exchange of first names, the would-be pompous lawyer in him starts lecturing us about the dangers and illegality of hitchhiking on the interstates.

            “You should only hitch from the state entry to the on-ramps. A state trooper can arrest you for even walking on the interstate. In Ohio, they’re sticklers, I know. I used to hitchhike back and forth between Notre Dame and Cincinnati.” He also tells us that in some states, like Colorado and Wyoming, it is illegal to hitchhike anywhere, a bit of information that will prove useful later on in our adventuring.

            Dave is willing to take us all the way to K.C. with him, and asks, an hour into our acquaintance, “Can either of you drive?”  He complains that driving more than an hour or two at a time always stiffens his neck and prompts headaches. When I volunteer, he asks to see my driver’s license, for the purpose of checking its expiration date. Along with a Blue Cross membership card, my New Jersey driver’s license is the only identification I carry, both of which are clipped to all the money I have in the world: four Ben Franklins and a Jackson, $420. What with Dave’s scrupulous attention to legality, I decide not to bring up the issue of marijuana with him, even though drugs of one sort or another had been a part of practically all of our prior rides. Besides, four twenty doesn’t yet mean what it will in the future. The jack-Amish chaplain had had the best dope, Maui Wowee!  he had called it. I still had in my pocket a couple of the Quaaludes that Bucko had swapped for some of the Columbian Cheeba Cheeba that I carry.  Unfortunately, this guy, Dave, his heart and psyche immersed in the waters of law, reminds me of Perkins, a former boss, the vice-principal where I used to teach, who was also an undercover narcotics agent, a spy in the house of the Seventies, working the law to collect two salaries, one federal, one state. Such shenanigans had weighed heavily in my decision to leave my tenured teaching position.

            Naturally Dave is more interested in the beautiful Lucia, the exotic New Yorker, than me, and as with everyone with whom we will get involved during our travels, the first thing on our benefactor’s mind after his lecture about hitchhiking is the wonder: Are Lucy and I lovers? When I get out of the back seat with Lucia in order to drive, Dave takes the other front seat without offering it to Lucia, and I wonder: is Dave’s intent the game: divide and conquer? I find his obvious study of Lucy’s reflection in the visor mirror burdensome and annoying.

            From her seat in the back, Lucia speaks interestingly on sundry subjects. When she quotes the last line of some Trouffe movie in French, Dave responds in French. That they both speak French delights Lucia. Apparently she asks Dave in French if he would like to have his stiff neck massaged, for he centers himself in the bucket seat, lays his head on the rest, and reclines the angle of the seat back. Lucia hasn’t put her hands on me sensually or sexually since the Last Motel in Cape Hatteras, and here she is massaging Dave. Envy and anger well within, for as I drive, I detect upon Dave’s countenance, a gloating, a fantasizing, a reading of much into Lucy’s massage. I’m afraid he’s about to respond to the good vibes of Lucy’s touch with some touching of his own and complicate my life. I consider that maybe Lucia like myself is out looking for her mate; maybe, I wonder, I’ve already been ruled out.

            Dave’s fingers, nervous in his lap, telegraph his intention to put his hand on Lucy’s. I’m reminded and well aware that Lucia understands little of the absolute lure of her being, of the innuendo of her fingers upon another’s flesh.

            I formulate a conditional proposition: if this scene is right out of the movies, then I had better act as well as watch. As did the Pennsylvania teenage prankster driving his father’s spanking new Ford F-100 pick-up in the thick woods of the Alleghany Mountains, I turn off the headlights of the Mustang. With the sudden disappearance of both his dash lights and the illumination of his headlights Dave bolts upright in panic and his head lurching forward cracks the vanity mirror on the sun visor he’d been using to watch Lucia in the back seat. In the spidery remains there can be seen dozens of fragmented Lucys.

            “What are you doing?” he shrills, as he strains against his seat belt, stretching to reach the headlight switch to which I block access.

            I respond, “What, you never splunked growing up in Cincinnati?”

            “Driving without headlights is illegal,” is the best Dave can come up with.

            “Yeah, I know, but that don’t mean it ain’t fun.” The man in the moon smiles just enough light on the highway that I can see well enough not to drift, to hug the road.

            Smoke and mirrors. Distraction. And the lawyer gets my drift. I win. The massage is over.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Cover Photo: Me, Eddie & the Gang 2010 Marcia Ward


(one way to make a man change his mind)
as always
for Marcia

I’s strange how conjuring works. You can’t go to school for it. Preparing and praying guarantees nothing. Hope won’t work as a game plan for it. Augury is fruitless. As is a study of coincidence. Simply said: voodoo is beyond control. It just happens. One thing leads to another is as close an explanation of voodoo as there is. And it’s voodoo that causes a man to change his mind. 

A few years ago, a woman from almost forty years ago contacts me on FACEBOOK. Debbie M had been a student at the high school where I worked in the late 60s and early 70s, and she messages me that, although I never was her teacher, she used to secretly audit my classes as her parents did not approve of the material I was teaching: Rock Poetry and Bob Dylan. She adds in her FACEBOOK text that whenever kids from those days (now in their fifties) get together, someone always muses aloud, “I wonder what ever happened to Mr. Ward,” and so following the recommendation of her daughter, Debbie had found me on FACEBOOK. Within a week I am FACEBOOK friends with some fifty former students from Woodbury New Jersey - a Philadelphia suburb - all of whom attest that I was a major influence upon them, an influence germinated not by the knowledge I had imparted but by my enthusiasm for learning and discovery and wonder (and maybe my exceedingly long curly hair). One, a Pulitzer Prize nominee went so far as to say she owed her storied and starry career as a journalist to me, even though at fourteen she was better writer than I was at twenty-five. Naturally, all the students I found attractive and about whom I secretly fantasized as a young man (Hell I was at times only five years older than some of my students), they all admitted to the same. Anyway, one thing leads to another in cyberspace and soon my former students are planning on throwing a party in my honor when I mention to one that I’ll be in Philadelphia for a niece’s wedding. I tell all it sounds like fun but I warn them if there’s to be a party for me, I’ll need a stage as I intend to put on my one man play, JERRY JUDGE, which concerns the school year 1974/75, my last year of teaching, the year most of my new old FACEBOOK friends graduated high school, the last year of our lives together.

I rehearse JERRY JUDGE daily the month before Marcia and I leave for my niece’s wedding. During that time I contact a couple childhood friends of mine and friends of the real life Jerry Judge and let them know I’ll be performing my theatrical tribute to Jerry at a party in Woodbury, across the Delaware and down river from where I was born and raised in Tacony. Even Jerry, himself, the former heavy weight boxer who fought George Foreman in 1975, is planning on attending the Rendezvous with Eddie Ward hosted by my former high school English students. Another principal character in my play – one of the people in John’s Tavern with me the day the events of JERRY JUDGE took place, Bobby Ethridge, is also planning on attending. Needless to, I’m anticipating a night in theater and nostalgic camaraderie heaven. I mean, come on, two of the invisible characters on stage with me in my one-man play will actually be in the room! So it is with great distress that I receive the news in a phone call from one Jimmy Lafferty, Jerry’s best friend, on the night before my departure to Philadelphia, that none of my old neighborhood pals are willing to make the drive to Woodbury New Jersey to see my play because there are, he tells me, way too many DUI checkpoints between Tacony and Woodbury. But my disbelief and disappointment turn to utter anticipatory delight when Jimmy adds, “So you’re just gonna have to do your play twice. Once in Woodbury and once here in the old hood, at no place other than John’s Tavern," - the setting for the play itself.

The week prior to my niece’s wedding and my two East Coast shows is a whirlwind reverie of old friends, family, partying and nostalgia. Even so, Marcia and I somehow manage to squeeze in a trip to Manhattan where we take in the Guggenheim (the walls are bare so patrons can imagine great art), the view from the Top of the Rock (makes a man feel small), some Greenwich Village comedy (I laughed not once), and a production of Sam Shepard’s latest hit,  his two-man drama Ages of the Moon (during which both Marcia and I fall asleep for much of the second act). On our way back to our hotel room which is only slightly bigger than the double bed it houses, we speak of the silliness and absurdity of the standing ovation that Shepard’s play had garnered. I remark: when tickets are $90 bucks I guess the audience has to validate its purchase by such unwarranted displays of approval. I mean, come on, it put me to sleep. And the premise, as Marcia asserts on our cross Manhattan trek is preposterous: twenty year old women simply do not give sixty year old married cowboys “minor blow jobs in parking lots outside bars in Billings” – this the reason the two characters come together to wax poetic about the ages of the moon at a fishing shack where the recently divorced (he who had the dalliance with the youngster in the parking lot) has come to drink and fish away his new found unwanted bachelorhood. If it sounds like I’m saying our trip to New York was underwhelming, well, it was. Give me The Kirkland Museum over the Guggenheim, the top of Mount Evans over Top of the Rock, the Mercury Café over a Greenwich Village tourist trap, and Stories Stories Bring Your Stories over off-Broadway anytime. Here in the Jungle Room, no one falls asleep on nights like tonight, and standing ovations are not de rigueur, and, not to mention, ever the point. 

So anyway, the night after our disappointing encounter with Ages of the Moon in Manhattan, Marcia and I are in the century old establishment of John’s Tavern in Northeast Philadelphia relaxing before the Tacony premiere of JERRY JUDGE. My old neighborhood, to use a current and apt metaphor, is Detroit: abandoned, broke, dilapidated, hopeless. The street where I grew up looks war-torn, my home of twenty-years, windowless and empty, except for stashed gang paraphernalia: needles, belts, guns and empty Krylon cans. Odd it is, however, that this saloon where we now sit awaiting the arrival of old friends of mine from forty and fifty years ago is much the same as it was that day in 1975 when my boyhood pal, Jerry Judge, inspired a friend and gym mate of his, Sylvester Stallone, to write the first Rocky movie. Beginning around six, the past begins arriving with Brenda, the first to arrive, my girlfriend at age fifteen, in the company of a half dozen women whom I knew as teenagers. Forty-five years of life have not diminished Brenda’s beauty although the sadness in her eyes is hard to miss, as, she tells me, her husband of forty years, Jimmy Ryan, had died unexpectedly the year before. Widowhood had not been her goal; nonetheless, with self-acknowledged shame, a part of me secretly gloats as Jimmy Ryan (at six-two and 220 pounds) had kicked my ass more than once in fist-fights surrounding the, at the time, two timing Brenda; but, at least, I outlived the mother fucker who stole her from me! And so, the voodoo begins at this hometown take on this Rendezvous with Eddie Ward

Next it’s a stream of old pals including Jerry Judge himself who I hardly recognize as the last time I saw Jerry was in 1975 on a twenty-one inch television mounted above the very bar where Marcia and I now sit, when the mustachioed heavyweight was kicking George Foreman’s ass in a post bell street-fight fight on ABC's Saturday Afternoon Wide World of Sports after supposedly having been TKO-ed by George in the second round of their fight. Jerry’s brush with boxing stardom had ended that day, despite the acclaim the color commentator at ringside, Mohammed Ali himself, had heaped upon my boyhood friend. Jerry Judge had gone on to be well-respected Philadelphia cop and even ran for mayor in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem, Vote the Judge, his election slogan. Obviously the years had been kind to Jerry as my football teammate, the pug faced Irish fighter, had matured into a dapper, extremely handsome sixty three year old man (with a second wife and pre-school-ers scurrying around his Scranton Pennsylvania home). Jerry never lost his star power. To this day when Jerry walks into a Philadelphia drinking establishment, barkeeps play Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now, the theme from Stallone’s first screenplay Rocky. And then it’s a parade of old friends and classmates from Saint Bernard’s Catholic Elementary School (now closed), from the public school across the street (Edwin Forrest Elementary), from my Jesuit Preparatory High School, Saint Joe’s, as well as members of my teenage gang, the Wall, for which I served as shot-caller. I mean when it came to gang fights in the 60s, if I said let’s rumble we did; if I said, it’s cool, we didn’t. There are even people I don’t know who have come at the behest of their spouses, and we fill the basement meeting room, where my performance of my one man play JERRY JUDGE is over the top, world class. When the lights go out at play’s end, the standing ovation is for real – unlike last night’s polite self serving one in New York – because as Lafferty tells me, “You made stars of everyone in the old neighborhood.” Everyone is smiling. For some in the audience, it is their first time at theater.

Soon everyone is back upstairs at the very bar where I’d watched the fight almost forty years before. The empty shot glasses that represent drinks purchased by others are stacked up ten deep, for in the old hood one never buys a drink, one buys a round. Naturally Jerry loved the bigger than reality slant I gave to my narrative and for many, my intoxicated and embellished memory of how the fight went down replaces theirs. The Irish never let the truth get in the way of a good story, and, after all, me mother was born in County Mayo! And then its even more voodoo as the mojo of my performance downstairs enters the room, dances on the bar, and electrifies the air around us.We are not five minutes into partying after my theatrical recount of neighborhood fistfights and Jerry’s professional fights when two young men standing next to Marcia - who were not in attendance at my play downstairs - start brawling. Who knows for what reason. The sucker punch that initiates the combat is the sound of fist and jaw colliding with the velocity of a monster right hook. I’ve never seen Marcia move so fast except perhaps on the ski slopes; she’s across the room out of harm’s way in an instant. And then, with a move of grace and brute power, Jerry comes between the two thugs and with seeming effortlessness puts both brawlers in separate headlocks, one under each arm. He tells the bruised kid who had been hit first, to scram, and when Jerry releases his grip, the kid does like a wounded bear released from a trap and he is out the door in a heart beat. The other, the aggressor, however, does not get off so easy. In fact, for the next half hour, Jerry keeps the kid in a headlock as Jerry holds court, visiting with everyone, drinking beer, telling tales, and buying rounds. Every time the kid under Jerry’s arms struggles or threatens Jerry verbally, Jerry just clamps down on the kid’s neck a little more rendering him powerless and silent. And then with casual charm, Jerry humiliates the brute with soft spoken taunts:

“So, what’s your mother gonna say, when she has to bail you out of jail in the morning because you started a fight in a bar? What are you gonna do when you’re fired for not showing up for work in the morning? And you lose your health insurance. Are you looking forward to joining the Aryan Nation tonight so you have back up and protection in county jail? Or are you just gonna be some brother’s bitch? Huh, come on, are you happy now, tough guy? Do you know how serious the charge of assault is these days?” The kid says nothing and even though he’s forty years younger and twenty pounds heavier, he stands bent over, quiet and limp in Jerry’s headlock. And when Jerry eventually says “Git” and loosens his grip, the kid never looks back as he scurries out the door. It’s hard to imagine someone over two hundred pounds expressing the characteristics of a rodent, but, trust me, I believe I saw a tail as his sorry ass went out the door. Voodoo, indeed! 

And the voodoo did not stop there. Because no sooner had the thug disappeared when two very young women, one a self-proclaimed Medical Student at Drexel University and the other a speed freak of a waif, as if to prove me and Marcia wrong about our disbelief in Sam Shepard’s premise for Ages of the Moon, both young ladies are all over Jerry, offering him the mythical blow job in the parking lot, an offer which Jerry declines.