Come October, after a long sojourn here in Europe, it’ll be back to the USA for what I suspect will be a final such trip. Body is getting cranky pondering the idea of 7 months on the road, living out of a van, on the kindness of friends and strangers and the bizarro world of cheap motels and Walmart parking lots. But the tarmac calls, or is it a perverse home-sickness, or a need to wrap up a mess of loose threads? Or a bit of fiscal pressure? A bit of all I suppose.
Of late being repeatedly reminded of life’s finitude – not that I needed reminding – I am greeted regularly with news of the death of a friend, of someone passingly known, of a “famous person.” It is that time of life – at 74 now for me – when one’s generation falls in waves off the planet. Naturally this prompts a bit of inward philosophizing in those of that tendency, though others seem content to sit silent on a bench, or shoot the shit over a daily game of cards. As my generation said in cliché-speak, “different strokes for different folks.”
I lost a game of pool to this guy back in 1979, I think it was. At Tosca’s in San Francisco. As happens a handful of people who knew, or worked with him, also did so with me. His sister has been in 3 of my films and counts as a good friend. Those were the days, though for me it was more or less accidental. He died last week, a slo-mo matter of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Age 73.
And in the last year a handful of others, friends and otherwise, bit the proverbial dust. Life.
And so on the road again, to see friends and family a likely last time, unless for a change they travel my way instead of me theirs. In the course of my life its been 99% the former, though as a traveler who has lived all over and has no “home” it is only natural. And likewise to visit places – cities, towns, landscapes – which have in my time changed so much, just like myself, that they become almost unrecognizable. The Lochsa River and Clearwater in Idaho, the rolling Palouse of Eastern Washington, the rough and tumble of Butte, the vast open sky of Montana (now choked with smoke from forest fires), the working class grunge of Portland mutated to hipster heaven; the bohemian haven of San Francisco shifted to a high-tech outpost of instant wealth. The great flat-lands of the mid-west, and hills of the Ohio Valley; the crazed clusters of LA and NYC, opposite and same, vortexes of blind ambition. And on down the list of a world changed since I hitch-hiked it all in the late 60’s through the ’70’s. Today hitching would equal a near endless wait of hopelessness. Instead I’ll take the ’97 Aerostar van, bed in back, crash at friends old and new, hit the occasional cheapo motel (what few are left, nearly all run by folks from India, camped out in some forgotten disappearing town); or pulled over in the welcoming Walmart parking lot – where by policy over-nighting is OK as their business policies inverts that of Henry Ford who believed he should pay his workers enough to buy a Ford. Walmart believes in paying so little you can’t afford rent, so you can camp in their parking lot ! The world’s most dubious “company town.” Naturally the Waltons are among the richest folks on earth!
A vague itinerary, zig-zag here and there, to friends and family, and whatever screenings or workshops I can manage to rustle up. Game to shift that line all over. Start in Seattle, run down to Redding CA to grab my van, then quick to Butte and Missoula before the sharp snap of winter arrives (these days now not so early as once as global warming takes hold). Then back to coast, friends in Seattle and Port Angeles, Tacoma, Portland and back down to Redding. The Bay Area, and down to LA and SoCal. December or January across the SW, maybe hunker down in a place like Truth or Consequences, NM, for some weeks to let the depths of winter pass by. And so on across the country. Set screenings or things so far (not necessarily the dates, but the nod): Claremont CA, Phoenix AZ, ABQ NM, Austin TX, Shreveport LA, Lincoln NE, Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, Boston. Looking for whatever I can find. If interested, or you know of anyone who might be, please contact me here, or on Facebook.
This guy was big when I was a teen-ager, along with the Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, doo-wop groups, and of course Elvis. Some of them are still kicking today, some gone or long gone. In the lame-ass poetry of most songs when stripped of their music, youth accidentally pointed to a future ill-perceived. You don’t miss something until it’s gone.
The last years, as is usual, hasten the life-process, an inversion of the awkward growth spurts of adolescence, with its flush of unmanageable hormones, gangly leaps in body and mind. Back then one awkwardly sought out one’s self and a place for it in the world, for most with little guidance. In my case whatever guidance came was rejected out of hand and I fled family as early as I could, at 17. And bumbled my way forward, into the blazing 60’s which most of my friends romanticize, as people often do with their youth. I look back through the veils of time, and recall nothing romantic, but rather the hard politics of assassinations, riots, a gritty rejection of the society being offered to me. I recall two plus years in prison, a grinding poverty of sleeping under bridges, hitching rides, crashing in apartments of people more stable than I was, and feeling my way towards whatever I was and was to become. Nada romantic to me. The intervening decades taste much the same, though now seasoned with experience.
(For thoughts on life’s backend, see this.)
Today the world plunges headlong into the hard realities which we humans have birthed – global warming coming on gang-busters with all it implies, a litany of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – famine, war, disease, death, over-population, a vast imbalance in the distribution of our human-made wealth, the impending waves of survival migration, an extinction event already in process. I naturally feel hemmed in, along with everyone else, trapped in a wave of massive proportions for which we are fully responsible. We made this world; the walls we have built are our walls. It did not just happen to us, we made it happen. It is not as if we were not amply forewarned. Such is history.
Kathy Handler, Alf Bold, Jon A. English, Dennis Powers, Steven Voorheis, Roger Ruffin, BeBe Ruffin, Helga Retzer, Barbara Wolff, Robert Kramer, Franci Slak, Karen Jahne, Jim Dennet, Tom Seghi, Owen Land, Stan Brakhage, Peter Trias, Shulamith Firestone, Mike Gray, Bruce Conner, Howard Guttenplan, Patricia Kelley, Peter Hutton, Charles Therminy, Dan Cornell, Sam Shepard and doubtless others whom I have not heard about, and others lost to the mists of memory.
[Note: yep, looking for screenings, workshops, talks, or can play and sing some C&W too. Or just a place to stop, talk, shower, park the van. If interested please contact me by posting here, or try on Facebook. Thanks.]