How the 60s Ended (Home)
  NOVEL EXCERPTS by Jerry Ratch
   Whitebread College
 Red, White and Blue Pepsi Van
 I Think I’m in Love With Mary Jo
 The San Francisco Poetry Wars
 Angel With a Number
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Angel With a Number

His wings were down when he got into the truck. It was a used UPS truck we’d bought from someone in Berkeley, and we painted out the letter “S,” so that it just read “UP.” UP truck with arrow

We’d seen him standing by the side of Highway 1, but tried to ignore him. It was a common sight in those days to see hippies and bedraggled creatures dressed in costumes of all sorts, and everybody hitch-hiked everywhere. It was almost normal then. We didn’t give him a second thought as we rolled past. But that was when the motor coughed and sputtered, and simply went dead. I pulled over onto the shoulder, and that was when he stepped into the van. He didn’t have to say a thing. Greg practically leapt out of the seat on the passenger side and got into the back with Steve and Penny and Steve’s future bride, Hilary. Our gang, except for Warren. The angel looked over Penny’s growing belly and smiled. He had a nice warm smile. You could say he sort of beamed. Well, I could say it anyway.

“Just head straight up Highway 1,” he said. He adjusted his wings so they fit the seat behind him better. “I’m heading north to Canada.”

I didn’t even touch the key and suddenly the motor was running again.

“S … so are we,” I sputtered.

“I know. Drive,” he said, “and this time, for Christ’s sake, look out where you’re going.”

Steve blew the beer he was chugging right out of his mouth, soaking the shirt of his future wife. Greg and Steve started socking one another in the arm. Steve looked over at the angel sitting in the front seat.

“Are you … are you Robert Creeley, or something?”

“Robert’s still alive,” the angel said. You could see the number 1508 engraved in dark blue on his left forearm.

“Yeah, well,” said Steve, “so what are you doing quoting poetry of living people then?”

“The best stuff reaches right up into heaven,” the creature said. He kept staring straight before him, watching as the road rolled up before us. “Sometimes, it’s better than music. Even Janis Joplin.”

Steve and Greg started in socking each other.

“See?” said Greg.

“See what?”

“I told you so.”

“You did not.”

“Did so.”

“Did so, did so!” Steve mocked.

Greg really let him have it in the arm.

“Ow!” Steve yelled. “Cut it out, will you?”

“Greg!” yelled Hilary. “Quit it!”

“Hey, wait a minute. The fucking truck is running again!” Steve bellowed. “What just happened? I am sooo drunk!”

Angel 1508 turned and looked back at him.

“You mean you don’t know? Say, can I bum one of those cigarettes?”

Greg shook one out of his pack and held it out to the stranger.

The angel touched a finger to the end and suddenly it was lit. We all just shook our heads, more or less in unison.

“Can you show me how you did that?” Steve asked.

“Sure. Would you mind giving me another?” Greg shook the pack again and out slid another. “Watch,” the creature touched one end of the cigarette. It started to glow as though someone were puffing on it.

Steve took the offered cigarette. As if in a dream, he touched his finger to the lit end.

“Ow!” he, jerked his hand away. “Ow, ow, fuck!”

“Bancroft, you are an idiot!” Greg said.

The angel looked at Greg for about half a century. Greg looked away. He stuck his hand in the brown sack at his side and twisted the cap off his bottle of tokay and took a long swig. His face went sour.

“Shee…it!” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Ass wipe! Nasturtium!”

 They both broke out laughing, and the angel laughed with them. And I thought: How strange! How strange it all is!

And we kept on driving, driving into the broad day with an angel inside our little world, that UP(s) van, heading up the road toward the vast empire of Canada, and freedom from worries over the draft, and the war, and the nasty small-minded politics of the far twisted right who were out to get us all. All of us, and put us in chains so we could keep working until the psychic pyramids were built into the sky, or down into the ground, the inverted upended mind-fuck reverse pyramids of the soul.

And we drove and we drove and we drove. All that night and into the next day. And as we were passing by Portland, all of a sudden over the radio we heard it: the end of an era. What we never thought would come to pass. The very real end.

W e heard the growling, bejeweled voice of King Richard Nixon. And we pulled the van to the shoulder of the road and stopped.

We sat looking at each other. Angel 1508, had a twisted, mystical smile on his lips, almost as if he knew beforehand what would be said.

“And so, effective tomorrow,” said the great Puppet, King Richard Nixon himself, as if the strings to his massive jaw were still being pulled by the very, very rich, the very powerful of our kingdom, “I shall resign the Presidency of the United States.”

We hesitated upon hearing those words. They poured over our ragged lost souls like a balm from heaven. We were bound to be released from infinite servitude with those words. We were sure of it. And we turned our truck around and drove into Portland to listen to the raggedy voice of Janis Joplin on the biggest speakers ever invented, in a record store next to heaven.

  © Jerry Ratch, 2012  

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