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
  About the Author  |  Disclaimer  |  |  Double Fiction Issue  

Red, White and Blue Pepsi Van

We packed my king-sized mattress, given to me by an old teacher at Irvine, onto a sheet of plywood in the Pepsi van. That was for Allison and me. Greg and Steve had pup tents, which they would roll out wherever we stopped and they would sleep under the stars. (It wasn’t until we were finally out in Berkeley that Steve’s fiancé flew out to try taking him back home with her, to settle down.) This worked until the first night it rained. That put a real crimp in our already crimped sex life. Actually I didn’t mind as much as Allison minded. Not getting laid made her grumpy. She was so small that it was like being with a virgin every time we had sex. She would groan, and wriggle around underneath me, then moan, then gasp and groan again. I could never understand how she could bear so much pain. I guess it was the mixture of pleasure and pain, or maybe she was practicing to have children.

Our plan was to take the northern route out through Wyoming, then straight across to Portland before turning south and heading down Highway 101 and Highway 1 to drive the whole coast. A 3000 mile trip in all. Unfortunately, none of us had ever driven a delivery van meant for deliveries on the plains, not the mountains. It didn’t have the requisite dual rear wheels needed for stability around mountain curves. Neither did it have four gears, only three on the column. You need the extra gear when you’re going down a steep incline. A s we were heading down our first steep incline in Wyoming, we discovered that our gearshift wouldn’t stay in second without holding it up in position with one hand. W e had no way of slowing the descent of the truck except for our brakes, which began smoking and grinding and groaning as soon as we hit that first incline. One of my students, either Greg or Steve, occasionally Allison, would sit or kneel on the floor of the van right next to me, holding that gear shift in second gear as we shimmied down mountain roads.


Let me back up a little. After piling all of my belongings into the truck, stowing as much as possible underneath the sheet of plywood that acted as the base for our bed, we pulled up in front of Dean Brown’s house, which was situated at the edge of town. He lived in a sprawling rancher with a half wagon wheel planted in the neatly mowed front yard. The wagon wheel was painted white.

Greg, who was trying to learn how to drive a stick shift, told me to go sit on the mattress with Allison. He and Steve hung out the stand-up doors and began singing at the top of their lungs: “We love you, Mr. Gordon! We love you, Mr. Brown!”

Then Greg jumped into the driver’s seat, floored the engine and popped the clutch. T he van lurched forward, letting out a peal of rubber as he swung around the corner on two wheels. Steve Bancroft kept hollering out the right side door , holding up his middle finger as we tore up the street. When he turned around, he was so red in the face I thought he was going to pass out. He collapsed on the mattress in a spasm of laughter and coughing.

A t the next stop sign Greg put the truck in neutral and crawled out from behind the wheel. He looked at me. “It’s all yours, captain. I need a drink.” He pulled a cold beer out of a brown paper bag.

“Hey, put that stuff away,” I said. “I can’t go driving down the road with open booze.” Greg sucked down half the bottle and Steve practically inhaled the rest. They tossed the bottle out the open door into the street where it shattered, and off we went.

I turned the truck onto Mary Jo’s street and crawled past the house where she lived with Mitchell and her four kids. The kids were running all over the front yard when Mary Jo spotted our truck. She came to the curbside. She motioned for me to come out of the truck. We walked to the corner of her street. She was a good deal shorter than me. Her hair was long and flowing and had turned prematurely white. She looked over her glasses at me. She was still lovely. She had once been a debutante in St. Louis.

“This is where I come when I need to talk to the frogs.”

She pointed at the gutter by a storm drain.

‘They’re the only ones I can talk to around here. There was nobody else, until you came to town.”

“We’re leaving for the coast.”

“Please don’t leave me here, Janov. Can’t you see what it’s done to me? I’m going crazy here.”

I looked all around at the tall elm trees and the big sleepy houses. I saw something move behind a curtain in one of the houses.

“They’re watching us,” she said. “They’re always watching. The frogs are all I have to talk to. You know?”

I nodded. Sadly, I knew. I touched her on the forearm. The bare skin along her forearms was firm and muscular. She was a painter, like her husband. There were small spots of white paint along her arms. I stepped back, hesitated, then turned and went back to the red, white and blue Pepsi van.

“I’ll follow you out to the coast, Janov!” she yelled after me.

We drove one last time around the town square and saw Mac Fox, still walking. We drove past Jack’s bar. Greg hopped to the door and saluted Lyndon Baines Johnson. Then we drove out to Route 66 and started toward the Coast.


In downtown St. Louis, as we were passing an Army surplus store, Greg shook me by the arm. “Stop the truck! Stop the truck!”

“What? What? ” Thinking it was some emergency, or I was about to hit something I couldn’t see, I rammed on the brakes.

“I need to get me some pants,” he said. “ You can wait right here, just keep the motor running. Ass-wipe, you come inside with me.” He dragged Steve by the arm. They ran into the store. The instant they went inside, Allison and I started making out. But before I could get a good hard-on, they came running back out of the store.

“Go, go, go!” shouted Greg. Steve was laughing. The store door opened and a store dick came sprinting out, looking both ways up and down the sidewalk.

“Put this thing in gear,” Greg yelled, “for Chrissakes, floor this sucker. Two-wheel it around the corner, will you?”

He had a cigarette in his mouth and lit a stick match with his thumbnail. He puffed on the thing like Groucho Marx, tapping the ash delicately with his ring finger.

“Yowsir! Got me some pants. Now we’re in business.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“ Drive,” he said. “For Chrissakes, look out where you’re going.”

Both Steve and Greg lay on their backs on my mattress in the rear and howled with laughter. They kicked their legs in the air like babes in new diapers.

“Shit, shit!” Steve howled. “You should have seen the look on that store clerk’s face when Greg vaulted over the check out stand.”

We drove in front of the St. Louis Arch on our way out west. It was like one enormous goal post, or one of the hoops to a gigantic croquet set. We set our eyes west from there, rolling out into the vast sea of cornfields extending from the Mississippi River to the base of the Wyoming highlands, a huge raised plateau before the Rocky Mountains. I kept driving and driving and driving. My students were pretty much no use at all, so I had to do most of it myself.

Forty miles north of St. Louis, Allison said to pull down this side road. We stopped beside a pasture with horses in it. She got out of the truck, taking me by the arm. We walked to the fence and she made a noise and one of the horses came right over toward the fence. She put her hand on the horse’s muzzle and petted it, whispering its name. She pulled a small red apple out of her jeans. Her horse began wolfing down the apple without biting her hand. Pretty adept.

“Do you want to meet my parents, Mr. Janov?” she asked, looking at me. “I know they would like to meet you.”

“I’ll bet.”

“No, they would love you, just like I do.”

“I don’t think so. Love to kill me maybe.”

“No, they would love you too. I’m pretty sure, Mr. Janov. Who wouldn’t love a poet? My horse too. Her name is Ginger, because she’s red.”

She looked her horse in the eye. “I’m going out to California with Mr. Janov,” she said softly. “He’s my lover.”

Her horse looked right at me. The smell of horse shit was staggering, pretty much. I guess you’d get used to it after a time. But I was a city boy, raised in Chicago, where horses were kept under the hood of fast cars and power boats or at the movies.

Allison kissed her horse’s nose, and I saw tears sliding down beside her rosy baby-fat cheeks. Allsion’s mother and father’s house had been two miles south.


When we got back into our Pepsi van, Greg had put on his newly stolen Army cargo pants, which were loose and baggy.

I didn’t understand why in hell he insisted on wearing these things until the first time we ran out of cigarettes. We were somewhere, God-knows-where, on the outskirts of some godforsaken little town, when he disappeared into a food store and emerged with his pants bulging. He was laughing wildly. He pulled a whole carton of Pall Malls out of his pants. Then a package of Oscar Meyer baloney, a red apple, a small jar of mayonnaise, a squashed loaf of Wonder bread. I wondered what he didn’t have jammed into those pants.

I said, “What happens if they catch you ?”

“What if they do?” he said. “What’s the worst that could happen? I go to jail, right? Then I don’t have to worry about going to Vietnam anymore. So, good.”

“Good?” echoed Steve. “Fucking-A! It’s great!”

We’d been driving through head-high cornstalks for what seemed like close to 100 years of utter solitude. All you could hear when you pulled over for a piss stop was the insect roar out in those fields, or when they swooped past your ear. Flattened snakes glistened on the surface of the road, road kill covered by dense swarms of flies.

“Who lives out here?” I asked.

“Pretty near everyone else in America,” said Allison. “Parents with their kids, white picket fences. You know, that kind of thing. People discovering dope and sex for the first time.”

“Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll,” said Steve. “Yeah!”

“Ass-wipe, will you just shut your pie-hole for one minute so someone can think?” Greg remarked, almost to himself. “Jeez. Just look at the landscape, will you? Fucking-A, man. You always gotta have the last word, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” said Steve.

“I mean, Vietnam, man. Think about it.”

“Yeah,” said Steve. “I’d rather get married.”

“Nasturtium!” Greg yelled, and he dove at Steve on the mattress, pinning him down. “Nasturtium!” he yelled right in Steve’s ear.

“Watch your fucking language, man!” Steve yelled back from his position in a headlock. “There’s a lady present.”

After we crossed the border into Kansas, a minor tornado appeared out of the dark lowering clouds, and the truck really began to rock. We turned north to avoid a head-on collision with it, and stumbled on the Oregon National Historic Trail, also known as the Lewis and Clark Trail. It was the flattest route out to the coast. That was Day 1.


We woke up at a rest stop on a knoll overlooking the Platte River, somewhere in Nebraska. Allison and I were under a blanket on our mattress when Greg and Steve peered in the door of our red, white, and blue Pepsi van.

“Psst! Janov, you awake yet? The sun’s been up for like a whole hour, man. Get the hell up already, will you? These big damn trucks are keeping us awake out here with their diesel fumes. C’mon, man. Pull your dick out of Allison and let’s get going.”

“My dick’s not in Allison.”

“It’s in my mouth,” she said.

“Then how come you’re still talking? No, wait, I get it,” said Greg.

“What?” said Allison. “What?” Greg was smiling. He raised his eyebrows. “Oh, I get it,” Allison said. “Well, it’s way more than I can handle, I can tell you that much, you dirty old man!”

Steve Bancroft fell down in the dirt outside. “I already miss my future wife,” he said. He lay flat on his back, looking up at the sky. “Let’s get the hell outta here. There’s a river out here. What’s the name of it? Where the fug are we anyway? Are we in California yet? C’mon, Janov, what say you get your ass out of bed? I need some breakfast or I’m going to throw a giant tantrum.”

“Okay, Janov,” said Greg. “Drive us to the nearest store so we can rustle up breakfast.”

I got into the driver’s seat. At the next small town we stopped in front of a grocery and Greg went in with Steve, who acted as suspicious as possible. A man in a white apron came out hauling Steve along by the collar and yelled at him never to come back to his store. R ight behind the man, out slipped Greg with his cargo pants bulging with goodies. Out of his pants Greg pulled a pound of bacon, a dozen eggs, a squashed loaf of Wonder bread, and two enormous Idaho potatoes. Then some green onions, and two red apples. He looked at me, because he saw me watching him.

“Always have fruit with every meal, man,” Greg said. “Uh, listen, can we stop at the next liquor store and get a jug of Gallo or Red Mountain, or Gallo or something? I’ve about had it with all this driving crap. I think we need to pull over and spend some quality time drinking our asses off. I kinda thought we’d be there by now. What do you say?”

I shook my head. Allison was nodding her head. I think she was about ready to jump on me. We needed some time alone.

“Okay,” I said. “Just a little further. We need to keep pushing ahead a little more, if we’re ever going to get out to California.”

“Aw, man!” Steve whined. “Crap. We need a good drink. C’mon. C’mon!”

“Okay. Just a little further,” I said.

We drove all the way through Nebraska that way, Steve whining, Greg holding his head, demanding a drink. “Look at my hand, will you? It’s shaking. Look at it!”

Finally I pulled into a small shopping mall outside a town on the Wyoming border. Ahead you could see the road starting to head uphill for quite a long stretch. Greg jumped out of the van and began doing handsprings in the parking lot. “Holy shit! Ah, I can’t believe it. Earth. Real fucking ground! Okay, Janov, here’s some money. We need two gallon jugs of some fine Red Mountain Pink Chablis. Oh, boy!”

I went into the liquor store and purchased two one-gallon jugs of Gallo Pink Chablis. They didn’t have nor had they ever heard of Red Mountain for some reason. I got two six packs of Coors beer for myself and Allison. But when I came out, Greg looked at me and laughed.

“No, no,” he said. “Look, just stay here. And start the motor, will you?”

He ran into the store with Steve. In less than five minutes they came running back out with their arms loaded with stuff. A pack of firewood, a box of stick matches, the biggest package of hot dogs I’d ever seen. It looked like enough to feed a campsite full of Boy Scouts. They had rolls of toilet paper, two newspapers. They had a whole sack of apples, they had marshmallows in one enormous bag. They leapt into the truck.

“Go, go, go!” Greg shouted. “Get the fuck out of here! The guy has a rifle, man! Floor this sucker! Go! Step on it!” I hesitated, not quite believing them this time.

The door to the grocery flew open. I saw a rifle coming out first, and away we went.


Somewhere between Cheyenne and Rock Springs, Wyoming, they ground me down, and I pulled over. We were way the hell out in the middle of absolute nowhere. Trucks rarely went by on the highway. Almost nobody, it seemed, traveled this route. We crept up a small incline and parked in an open swing-about space where we could camp without being noticed, even if we built a big campfire, which was exactly what we did. There were logs and deadwood of all sorts scattered around the space. We dragged what we could toward the center and built this big five-foot pyramid of wood, and sat down to do some serious drinking on logs that acted as benches around our fire. We waited for darkness before striking a match. It was the biggest bonfire I’d ever seen. It was like something you would see at a homecoming football match. We started jumping all around the flames as they rose higher and higher, because we noticed our own huge shadows leaping against a cliff right next to us. That was when we discovered we could make one shadow jump right through another and come out whole on the other side. Our shadows were indestructible. It was one of those moments of discovery maybe only gallons of pink Chablis could bring on. Or dope. Because Allison also broke out a couple of joints and we were getting pretty stoned.

All of a sudden a howl came out of the bushes. The next thing I knew Greg took to howling as well. Then Steve began howling. Then to my amazement so did Allison, then me as well. We all howled with whatever it was that was out there, and I turned and noticed the moon which swerved over the horizon, which began way back in Illinois where we had started. I grew certain I could see all the way back to the beginning of time from our plateau in Wyoming.

“I saw the moon swerve ,” I said.

“Let’s haul out the poetry, man” Greg said. He ran to the truck and brought out a hardbound edition of the Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.

“Give me that,” I said. I turned to “The Meditations of an Old Woman” and began to read. I read two pages and put the book down on the ground. I thought I was getting up to go take a leak, but I leapt over the flames of the fire instead. I don’t know why.

A ll hell broke loose.

Greg jumped to his feet and grabbed the book of poetry and began shouting out lines rapid-fire, then he too leapt through the flames.

Steve was next. Even Allison took a turn at reading, but she was a little too short and plump to make it over. The pit was pretty damned wide. She got to the edge and looked in and turned back and sat down, taking another toke off the joint.

“C’mon, Sheffield, don’t chicken out,” yelled Steve.

“Ah, leave her alone,” said Greg.

“You’re no fun,” Steve complained.

“Go fuck yourself,” Greg retorted. He took an enormous swig off the jug of wine. Then he leapt back through the flames again. He came back to where the book was and handed it to me. “Read some more, man. You’re a great reader. Here.”

I opened the book and began reading. “I have gone into the waste lonely places / Behind the eye; the lost acres at the edge of smoky cities....” I saw Steve and Greg sit down on the ground and sink back against the logs. They let their heads tilt back and their faces lifted up to the stars. I could feel the heat from Allison’s skin. It was still warm out, but a wind began picking up, making the flames raggedy. I turned up my collar and kept reading. When my throat went dry, I took a long pull from my bottle of Coors. No one said a word while I drank. Then I began flowing back into the “Meditations of an Old Woman.”

"How can I rest in the days of my slowness?
I've become a strange piece of flesh....
I need an old crone's knowing....

Often I think of myself as riding—
Alone, on a bus through western country.
I sit above the back wheels, where the jolts are hardest....

All journeys, I think, are the same...”

The poet’s words held us. They held us all. We went this way and that with the memories and the mind of age as it bent and swayed between its idle and sharp thoughts. Roethke had really managed to get inside that old woman. We felt a twig snap in the universe.

No, wait, that was a real twig in the real world. What was out there? Ah, but what did it matter? Not one of us moved, and I dug in further and let that old mind carry us. The cares of the other world that was out there drifted further away. The wars. The politicians with their warped thoughts, speaking about dollars in the night. The passing of the Sixties. None of it mattered. An internal river of words carried us away.

We were clueless as to how it all worked, and we did not care how it all worked.

We were poets. We were in love with the world again.

Allison took her clothes off. She was full-bodied with abundant breasts and the firelight shone on her large nipples. She took me by the hand as Steve and Greg stared open-mouthed. Steve began to masturbate, while Greg kept drinking wine. Allison and I went into the truck. Allison screamed out with the pain and the joy.

At one point in the middle of the night I heard Greg saying, “Will you put your dick away, ass-wipe?”


After three days of complete and utter debauchery in our little encampment on that plateau in Wyoming, we headed west again. A fter numerous runs to a liquor/grocery store, we had consumed a grand total of twelve gallons of Gallo pink Chablis, four cases of Coors beer, and two bags of weed. We passed through one town after another. They all became a blur. We kept driving and driving. We descended upon Salt Lake City, then turned north up through Idaho, always seeking the flattest route possible, following after Lewis and Clark. Through Twin Falls, Gooding, Mountain Home, Boise, then on into Oregon. When we hit the Columbia River Gorge, a light lit up in my red eyes. Like a heat-seeking missile I headed down that river toward the sea, and we drove all the way down along the river until we came into Portland.

We were exhausted, and when we walked into a record store where they had enormous speakers that were blaring out Janis Joplin singing “Piece of My Heart,” it was like hearing the gospel on the mountain directly from the lips of Ms. Moses. We couldn’t get ourselves to leave that record store, and instead sat around on these enormous comfortable old sofas absorbing the music like honey-sotted bees. We’d been on the road so long, this seemed the ultimate return to civilization. It didn’t seem possible one woman could contain so much soul. I had seen Janis with Big Brother and the Holding Company once in concert down at U.C. Irvine, but this was something else again. We’d been in the wilderness of America just too damned long. When you are out there on the road, America seems like pretty much the same old same old. Things never seem to change until you hit the big city. Even a place like Portland was big to us. And the size of that music store! It was two stories high inside and absolutely cavernous. And those speakers must have been five feet across, they were so big, and they hung them from the ceiling and it would just pound through your bones to hear those angelic tones coming out of Janis, our Janis.

I didn’t want to go on. “Portland seems like it might be a nice place to live,” I said. “Let’s stop here.”

Janis Joplin was charming their ears too, like a siren. It took them a minute to fight it off.. Steve began to whine. “No, man, we’re going to California. I want to see California. Gre…e…g!” he whined. “Get him off his ass. I want to go to California.”

“Bancroft, will you just shut up and listen to Joplin? Fuck sake!”

“I wanna go to California. I wanna go. C’mon. Jeez! ”

“Nasturtium! Shut the fuck up, will you?”

“Greg, c’mon! C’mon!”

Greg looked over at me. “He’s never going to stop, you know.”

I nodded. I did know that. With the greatest effort I rose from the sofa and looked back at it. “Sofas were once noble flower-eating animals, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, Zbignew Herbert the Polish poet, I know,” Steve said. “But California, man. California! I can almost taste it.”

“You’re getting out at the state line.”

“No, I’m not. Anyway, doesn’t Janis Joplin live there?”

“Not anymore.”


After stealing enough grocery food to last us two days on the road, we took Route 5 out of Portland, then turned to the coast.

W e drove down the road to Eureka, California, after first stopping right at the border to let Steve out so he could kiss the ground of California and everything California stood for. In Eureka we dropped in on a poet friend from my writing program named Bo, who was teaching at a junior college called College of the Redwoods. Going down the mountains outside Eureka, we kept trying to hold the gear shift up in second to gear the truck down, because huge logging trucks kept swooping down on us from behind. In the mirror I would watch them getting closer and closer to our rear bumper. I was sweating bullets or brains or at least huge drops right out of my forehead. I asked Allison to mop off my brow as we went down that mountain, and one by one the logging trucks would swing out around us whenever they got half the chance to blow past this bunch of screaming hippies in a red, white and blue Pepsi van, going down the mountain, their turf. The nerve! I could hear them yelling out the curses as they flew past us. If they’d only known the ultimate curse: Nasturtiums! they would yell. Nasturtiums! NASTURTIUMS!

Then, suddenly, our brakes gave out,. F ortunately we were at the bottom of our long descent into Eureka. We got out and looked at the blue smoking wheels of the Pepsi van. The awful, asbestos smell stuck in our throats and lungs. None of us knew what to do. I called Bo and got directions to his house, which was out in the sticks at the edge of town. We limped , the whole way there in first gear.

Bo lived with his wife Dana in a house with her children from another marriage. The house had a duck pond with actual ducks floating on the surface. Her kids entertained themselves throwing food at the ducks, which would dive to retrieve what didn’t hit them directly. The ducks were adept at catching food in mid-air, hamburger buns, pieces of baloney, sliced pickles, which they would spit out, looking at the kids impudently. Not even a duck, apparently, liked pickles, though I did. As a matter of fact. I could eat them until I developed a good case of hives.

Bo knew everything there was about mechanical stuff. He got that van up on jacks and started right in by taking off the wheels. But then we couldn’t find the right parts at a local auto store, so we had to spend the next week waiting for them to be shipped. W e got a chance to slow down and relax. And Bo took us out at night to the house of some locals. There was a woman there who played this electric violin, country blues music that was drenched with soul. I didn’t even know you could hook up a violin electrically. It was astounding music. I wanted to weep, it was so beautiful. Of course, I was getting pretty soused too, once I got the chance to quit thinking about the next day’s drive.

Trouble was, it rained damn near every day in Eureka. The sun only broke out about midday for about an hour, then it would get swallowed up in fog. All that grayness all the time wore on us. People would wait around for the sun to appear, then we’d all run outdoors yelling like Com anches until it went away. The next thing you’d think about was drinking. And people got on your nerves when you were cooped up together all the time. Bo and his wife really started sniping at each other. W e needed to get the wheels back on our van and get the hell out before full-blown mayhem erupted. As soon as the parts arrived I sat down beside Bo and learned what needed to be done so we could speed things up and get on the road.


Then we drove down the coast all the way into San Francisco, swinging around curves overhanging the ocean that looked death-defying. And we were cold nearly all the time. I remember once hearing Mark Twain’s description: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Amen to that!

Then on across the Bay Bridge into Berkeley, where the head of the Foul Language School of poets resided, our nemesis, Von Meckel. Ground Zero of the San Francisco Poetry Wars.

But we didn’t settle in yet. Instead we continued down the coast until we came to Santa Cruz where parking was free. This seemed like a good town , situated right on the sea, with a boardwalk and an amusement park with roller coaster. It seemed untouched by time — this would be a good place to hole up someday and write a long poem, something I had already started to envision back in those Illinois cornfields. There was broken glass on the sidewalks every morning from fights between winos. What more could a young poet want? Just ask Charles Bukowski. I drew in the sea air. Yes, this would be perfect, I thought. Perfect.

We kept on driving down along the coast, passing through Big Sur, made famous by Jack Keruoac, who stayed there once in a cabin owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Then along perilous cliffs, down past the Hearst Castle, and finally through smog-filled L.A. until we got to Laguna Beach. 3000 miles in all. As we pulled into a parking lot to get some jug wine before entering Laguna Beach, I was so out of it with the fatigue of driving that we hit something with a loud crunch. Who the hell puts a light post right smack dab in the middle of a  campus parking lot in Irvine, California? I looked at everybody. They all stared at me dumbfounded. They’d gotten used to trusting in me with all the driving, like I was their father. I think it woke us all up.

“Not to worry,” I said, “that’s my good parking karma kicking in.”

Red crease marks ran across their foreheads. Their mouths hung open.

When we got to Laguna Beach, we stopped at the apartment house where one of my ex-students from Irvine, Kirk Dayton, was staying with his artist girlfriend, Maggie. It was late at night. Kirk and I went out to a playground for kids and hung out on the swing set that had three swings hanging in the darkness. We were both slugging down the wine and beers. I began shaking my head. Kirk kept eying me.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he asked.

I just shook my head, looking down into the sand. “I don’t know.”

“Fuck, man. Want a joint?”


“Are you all right?”

“I’m okay.”

“Fuck, man. Fuck.”

“Yeah,” I said. “3000 miles. I drove the whole way. They’re just kids,” I said.

“They’re the same age I am,” Kirk said.

“Yeah. Shit.”

“Well, guess what,” he said.


“Maggie’s sleeping with this big honcho artist at Irvine, Philip Guston.”

“You’re kidding. Philip Guston, for real?”

Kirk nodded.

“She’s his favorite and they’re like doing it and I confronted her about it and she wouldn’t say yes but she wouldn’t say no either and now she goes around talking to herself all the time. It’s like blowing her mind.”

“Wow. The Philip Guston? He’s huge, Kirk.”

“I know. And she’s got hot pants for him and he’s easily old enough to be her father, maybe grandfather, who the fuck knows?”

I was shaking my head again. I took a huge mouthful of wine and held my head back and gargled. Then I swallowed, of course.

We began swinging on the swing set really high, charging into it to get the swings going as high as we could. We could feel the legs of the swing set pulling up out of the ground, because we were swinging in exact formation. Then we started yelling like kids, though it was close to midnight, but we didn’t give a shit about anything and we just kept swinging, swinging wild and free. One could do worse, you know.

Then we tried to figure out how to keep swinging while we drank, but we couldn’t. So we stopped and went over to climb on the monkey bars and sat on them and did some serious drinking and finally I fell off into the sand and just lay there, crying softly. You could hear the waves pounding on the beach below that night. Something big must have been out there, stirring something up way out on the Pacific Ocean.

I had to go find an apartment the next day, but that night I didn’t care about how the normal world worked. I had just escaped from Illinois with three students in a red, white and blue Pepsi van, for Chrissake. I had made it all the way back to Laguna Beach with my history there of wild student parties and the wreck of the Sixties splayed out behind us.

I was free at last, free at last, or so I thought.

That night we slept on the floor of Kirk and Maggie’s apartment and listened to them arguing all night about art and life and love. Ah, me, I sighed, the sad soul of America! I thought of Walt Whitman. I thought of Allen Ginsberg. I thought about both of them squeezing melons in the supermarkets of California, and the ghosts of our own lost generation, and of what was to come for someone in this room called Life.

  © Jerry Ratch, 2012  

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