I lived as a boy in one of the suffocating tracts of suburban homes
swallowing the fruit orchards and berry fields of the Santa Clara Valley.
Dozers chewed and growled through the rows of apricot, prune and cherry
trees heaping the carcasses into huge bonfires that would burn for weeks.
Italian, Portuguese and Japanese farmers left leaving no trace.
Whining skill saws and endless hammering slowly replaced
the drone of irrigation pumps pushing clear cool beautiful water
through sun baked ditches and the roaring furnace blast of the fruit driers.
Sidewalks laid out with curb cuts
for un-built houses replaced the shady orchard
rows for adventure and boyhood fantasy.
Those orchards were a relatively private after school place -
to convince Elena Ramirez to open here blouse.
Bracero camps were felled
without a thought of the ghosts
of those who came every season
to sweat their life for a contemporary slavery.
As promised by the developer -
a community pool for our blocks of tract homes
named Los Ranchitos was built and it became the center
of summer adolescent boredom and children's swimming lessons.
A redwood barbecue table was set up under the cabana
facing the concrete deck alongside the pool
where we would plug in our teenage record players
and spin stacks of 45's.
Stuff like Elvis, the Everley Brothers, Bobby Darin and Gary U.S. Bonds,
remembering "Candy Apple Red Impalas" in the late 50's
and none of us new how late it really was.
Most of the families were striving to perform
and define the script of the West coast middle class.
That really means the homes could be bought
on VA financing and you better make the payment,
landscaping and fencing not included with a prune tree
in every backyard. It was white and it was not middle class.
I headed for the pool on Saturday
not being able to stand the confinement
of my room or the silence of the sweltering house.
At the gate to sign in to the pool area, something was definitely changed.
I had seen these guys before or actually I had seen them in a 48 Cadillac
Fastback, a low long loud bomber in primer white with a split rear window,
white and red tuck and roll, big fat whitewalls, and Tennessee plates.
A custom lead sled. Nobody had Tennessee plates.
Nobody did up a Caddy like that,
I mean this is California,
40 Fords or 56 Chebbies for sure,
but not a big low and long tank like that.
And there they were sitting on the lawn for Christ sakes,
right in front of the gate with a record player with an extension cord
plugged into one of the outlets for picnics that never happened.
You walked up to the gate and there they were just looking at you.
Three guys with pomaded ducktail hair, petrified never-washed Levis,
cowboy boots, big collared shirts with rolled up sleeves.
Each had a fallow distant face
with eyes that would be labeled
the "thousand mile stare"
by blind-sided teenagers back from Viet Nam.
It was the music. I was turned to stone.
The Tennessee Stud was long and lean
The color of the sun and his eyes were green
He had the nerve and he had the blood
And there never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud
The Tennessee stud was long and mean...
nothing could beat the Tennessee stud.
I know I must of stood there
jaw dropped in a adolescent brain
fade looking a pubescent Neanderthal.
A brooding deep ghost voice sung out
and filled the trim green lawn
with an alien - earthly spirit.
Forget Fabian, Frankie Avalon, the Four Seasons, Bobby Vinton...,
all of that Mickey Mouse Club shit...Johnny Cash just wiped it clean.
From that day on Johnny Cash has been in my musical back pocket.
In later years "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" played incessantly
on our record players singing the words out loud.
Cash had the face, that amazing face
of long wounds and unspeakable history -
his eyes could cut you down or fill you with warmth.
Watching his eyes you could see back generations
to Appalachia coal miner anthems, hear the mandolins
and banjos, gospel send ups, old liquor stills deep in the pines,
and badass flathead Fords on a dirt street Saturday night.
As a young boy looking at him I saw the whole realm of male reality,
the burden of hard youth, the recklessness of innocence spent
wickedly, the haunting memories of days wasted in decay.
You can hear the music of the hills and green valleys of the South,
the pain of lost dreams, the struggle of the working class -
and always, his quest for forgiveness.
Rest in your peace Mr. Cash
You make it come alive.
My tract house childhood (five cookie cutter models all eerily similar)
was cut from the same cloth. Braceros, bean and berry fields,
early Orange County still barren in places and hot hot hot!
VA loan for an $11,000 three bedroom ranch house
and my parents both working - while I, -
I could have been a poster boy for latch key children.
The disturbingly crazy shit that we did between 2:30 and 5:00
when the house was mine and anything goes and nobody knows.
Then the drunk old man stories!!
I could regale you with tales of debauched boozing
and self indulgent alcoholism that tore my childhood
into a recurring nightmare of frenetic memories
that weave a tattered tapestry rife with screaming,
crying, pity, pathos and all the depraved shit
that comes out of two fifths of Smirnoffs a day.
Yeah my old man was a great guy to know if
you wanted a shot and a beer back.
He had good taste in music if you liked Gene Kruppa,
Buddy Rich, big bands and jazz.
It didn't start like that.
My early memories were pretty normal.
Davy Crocket caps and Jim 'Bowie knives' (plastic),
boys club ping pong, public pools,
barefoot summers and picnics in the park.
The weirdness kind of crept up slow and steady.
Like taking drives in Irvine and my parents sharing
a six pack of Schlitz on a hot summer Sunday.
Or spending three hours in the car out front of a dive
in Ensenada while my mother would periodically run
into the cantina to try and get my old man to leave
his vodka martini and take us back to an American bar.
He was a bar manager for Claremans restaurants in Covina,
Cucamonga, and Gardena. Nice steak houses frequented by
pseudo celebs and big spenders who couldn't get in the Brown Derby.
The North Woods in Covina, the Golden Cock in Cucamonga.
(no shit, large rooster on a gold pole for a logo)
He thought he would own his own place some day
but that dream got lost in the bottom of a fifth of gin.
My childhood wasn't much different than millions of other
"Leave it to beaver" families that hid the truth from the neighbors
and bought into the lies of the fifties.
Simple times my ass.
Cold war paranoia,
pressing questions of the era,
Would you let your neighbor in yours
or blow his ass away?
Lenny Bruce trying to warn our parents
that things weren't right but,
no one wanted to hear him.
Beatniks, hip chicks, Charles Mingus,
Be Bop and The Purple Eye.
What a country.
What a simpler time.
A couple of lyrical cats.
I sure can relate.
Only our little sub division
(900 sq. ft ranches w/basement to spin 45's
try'in that aspirin in a coke deal) and surrounded
bay big ol' corn fields in N. Columbus , Ohio. Latchkey.
My dad was a beer salesman
Always lotsa Schlitz. Had kinda sweet taste after I had chance
to compare it to other brands. Coming home from catholic school
searching through my dad's sock drawer for the nudist colony mags
to get the vision of nunzilla out of my lil' pate.
At the swimming pool I was a member at I recall the swim couch
setting up a 4th of July party and 2 of the older guys on the dive
team rode bicycles off of the diving tower probably 16' high
over same flames on top of the water the coach had formed
by floating a little fuel oil and igniting it while Johnny cash sang
"I fell into a burning ring of fire" over the crackly pool pa system.
And the souls I think about .. every day ..
like this ..
Keith Jarrett ..
Thelonious Monk ..
James Brown ..
Lenny Bruce ..
Allen Ginsberg ..
Jack K ..
and Weather Report...
when Jaco was reportin' ..
Yeah, I mean when th' junkies and the crack-heads
was signin-in Son Ra .. right, Madonna,
Bootsy Collins and the Rubber Band, try this--
June Tabor and the Oyster Band --
Ok, it's just all the old tiresome divisions have no use.
Especially the radio is so worthless lately.
I wish I could sign on with the all-enlightenment channel,
the Dalai Lama the main DJ, every day.
Or what ?
© 2003 - Diggers Digging in the Moment