Wednesday, October 7, 2009


1963-1965 + Cortland, NY

Rock band on campus? With faculty chaperone's aghast, the Frog, strutted onstage, at the mike, screaming:
"See that pretty girl in pink,
She's the one that made my finger stink..."
My alter ego was dragged off stage and eventually summoned to the Dean's office vainly trying to explain away the indefensible.
Frat after-party? There he staggers, 4am, scooping cigarette butts out of stale, warm beer. Froggie chugs that vile concoction until he's face down on the stone floor with a bloody broken nose, ultimately hospital bound.
Frat brothers horny? Grog is on the phone lining up a come as you are gang bang. Frog imagines he's winning the hearts of those upstanding school teachers, principals, and superintendents of tomorrow.
Swim at the pool? Frog is on the high board fully clothes, shoes and all, shouting tribal obscenities. As always, he has to be the center of attention. To the consternation of pool officials, life guards, and fellow swimmers, our frat boy dives belly first.
Hungry after hours? Our naughty boy can be seen running drunkenly down the ally. Froggie is being chased by a knife-wielding, profanity-screaming short-order cook. He has brazenly skipped out on his 60 cent late night egg fest at Marty's Diner.
Got a date? There Frog humps, getting laid in public in the back of of Rocky's hearse in front of the Tavern. The cheers of wild and willing well-wishers, hearty, hooting, hangers on and loud, lusty loiterers spur him on.
Poor boy looking for a low-budget snootful? Frog is in the alley, in the dark, going blind chugging rot-gut out of a bottle with the town winos.
You may wonder: How did Frog afford these drunken interludes and late night breakfasts (when he bothered to pay, that is)? Our boy was resourceful. He was a barroom athlete of the first order. Frog was a master of pool, darts, bowling machines, drinking games, word games, and cards. He was everyman: amiable, funny, friendly, and ready with the latest dirty joke or limerick. Frog was a low-rent raconteur. Drinks came readily to him.
Friends? Frog knew everyone; everyone knew him. Cortland State was a very small pond, our boy strove to be a big fish. sadly, effort wasted to maintain his pretense served to undo him. Frog's shallow popularity brought loneliness in its wake.
As the introduction states, Bob Dylan's lyrics are interposed throughout. While Frog was getting hammered in bar after bar, poetic and profound music made its was into his vacuous existence. Frog's self-centered corner of the universe was being invaded. Like a warm breeze on a very cold day. Dylan's idyllic lyrics brought comfort to him. Frog vaguely sensed his life was changing, but he didn't know how or why.
Make no mistake, Frog was still a self-absorbed and shallow creature, but he knew depth and beauty when he heard it. That was it. Most lyrics were much too difficult to grasp at first. When the Poet sang, "Of war and peace, the truth just twists, its curfew gull, it glides", he felt unsettled and troubled.
Frog would sit quietly in noisy, crowded college bars and low-rent dives, enthralled. He knew this music expressed something essential and meaningful for him, yet the meanings were just out of reach. As Frog applied himself to this one compelling thing, glimpses of understanding came. Dylan's existential anthem spoke directly to him:
"You say you never compromise,
With the Mystery Tramp, but now you realize,
He's not selling any alibis,
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes..."
YES! I got it! The Poet was speaking about the world, Frog's world, our world. This wasn't the world of fraternity pranks or thoughtlessness, meaningless adolescent escapades. No, Dylan's was a world where people and ideas mattered, and where freedom and justice were not empty abstractions. These song-poems expressed what Frog had never considered. His choices carried consequences for others. Frog was deeply impressed and impelled to listen.
Something incredible was occurring, I, your author was beginning to see Frog against a backdrop of a troubled world. People began to matter. Frog's antisocial antics seemed silly and embarrassing. I was coming alive to a profound and disturbing personal worldview. I was hooked. Dylan had me. I was forever changed. i was growing up.
Not to worry. There were many more drunken escapades and arrests. The sad and sorry denouement was soon to come. Frog was falling apart. The good time charlie house of cards was getting shakier by the week. Frog's junior year love affair had gone down in flames.
Mona saw that Frog was a loss-leader, with no return in sight. Our boy had loved her, in his pubescent, high-testosterone way. Beneath frog's sociopathic exterior, there lived a starry-eyed romantic and dreamer. Frog was a pushover when it came to Mona. She had denied him access to the chaste treasure of her body. That had driven him mad with desire and respect. yes, respect. Frog respected what was denied him, on principle. Mona repeatedly did so.
She was of medium height and had olive tinted, velvet skin. Her long, dark hair framed her expressive and knowing, dark brown eyes. Mona had a dancer's body: slim and lithe. Her everyday demeanor was self-confident, friendly, and accepting. Frog loved to watch her dance. Her movements were smooth, sensual, and yet Innocent. Slow dancing with Mona and holding her in his arms, Frog felt vitality and warmth, and was transfixed. he was drawn irresistibly to her magnetic manner.
Frog never knew where he stood with her. He wanted Mona exclusively, possessively, like young males do, but she remained elusive. Frog was captivated and perplexed. He knew he was around her. he never knew where.
Mona was an intellectual who read widely and engaged in far-reaching, intelligent conversation. She wrote poetry, was politically active, and hung with the literati, the hippies of tomorrow. Mona attempted to interest Frog in these endeavors. He was not ready to abandon The Frog.
One evening at The Tavern Mona said to him, "Come on, join us; we're going to Syracuse to a Bob Dylan concert." "No," said he, "I'm staying and drinking here." Frog was going nowhere. She saw that all too clearly. Mona knew Frog was ut
ltimatle redeemable, just not yet.
She had simply given up. Frog couldn't take it. He had fallen head over heels for Mona in that way drowning people fall for their rescueers. Niavely, in his ardent clumsy way, he had offerd his heart to her. Frog felt rejected, unworthy, and alone. He drank more often and heavier. Hangovers became blinding headaches, nausea, and dazed, empty days. The seeds sown by Miss White and his father were bearing friut, such as it was.
The scenes got wilder and scarier. Frog quit doing school work and attending classes. Friends quit coming around. He became more lonley, more desperate, sadder. Frog was terrified. He sensed where this was heading. The conclusion would be awful. Frog had never learned to open up and reach out to anyone. He was lost, deeply depressed, and adrift with no anchor. Frog felt alone, without shelter from the storm his life had become. It was no simply a matter of time, and time was runing out. Soon to come would be, in Dylan's words, "the timeless explosion of fantasy's dream."
Shall I bother to describe the inevitable, final fiasco? Crazy, drunk in public, pants down, gross remarks, obscene gestures, deeply offended and undeserving others, cops, arrest, jail, bail, dean's office. Inevitable harsh punishment was on the way. There would be no recourse and no appeal. Frog had become Camus' Stranger, alienated and alone. He was trapped in a predicament of his own making, and held as in a vise beyond his control.
Events now sped along. Frog was on a conveyor involuntarily taking him away from the green pastures of Cortland State:

Dean: "They call you Frog. I know all about you.
You need psychological help."
Frog: "Yeah, I know."
Dean: "I'm expelling you."
Frog: "Yeah, I know. I don't want to get drafted."
Dean "Get help. I can get you a deferment."
Frog: "OK."

There would be no help, psychological or otherwise, and no deferment. What there would be was a road trip from frigid upstate new York to sunny southern california. Uncle sam was close behind...


December, 1965 + NY to CA

Frog had met his match at Cortland State, Psychotic Sid. He was a blonde-haired, crew-cut country kid with a sculpted, chisled jaw. Sid was all muscle and gristle, tight as a wire, and funny and amiable. He could also be drunk and brooding. Sid was up for anything. Anything covered a lot of ground. He would dance like a dervish one minute, cry in his beer the next, and fight to the death after that. Apropos of absolutely nothing, he would say, "Lets go kill a cat", "Lets break some windows", or "Lets go to Cornell and steal some coats." It could be anything.
Frog loved him and feared him in equal measure. Frog and Sid were two of a kind. Sid's girlfriend Mary had seen the obvious and shut him down. Sid, too, was missing classes, ignoring exams, falling apart, and failing. Like Frog, he was drinking way too much. One day, this conversation occured:

"Hey, Sid, I got kicked out of school."
"Good for you. What now?"
"Fuck this place. Let's go to California."
"I'm in. Let's drink to it."

We did. Before he went, Frog had to talk to his Dad to get his blessing, or at least some acknowledgement he still had a father. His father had always been a huge presence in his life, as we've seen, whether rebelling against or acting like. Frog knew getting booted out of school and running off to california would be a hard sell, after the piss-drinking episode and all. To face the music, Frog got drunk enough to call. He stammered drivel about 'going his own way' and wept. Eventually getting his Dad's grudging OK. Frog's Mom was crushed. She had loved and given without measure. Your author (not Frog) had let her down terribly. By this time, Frog had been left behind.
My sordid family buisness done, we loaded up the iol guzzling '59 Ford my Father had given me. Sid and I begged and borrowed California or Bust money. Leaving what we thought were broken hearts and an unjust world behind, we headed out for the Western skies. A pair of hard-luck james deans, we imagined, motoring to a more understanding and accepting world. We longed to be where good-hearted, hard drinking cowpokes got along OK>
Alabama. We were sitting on some cheap, plastic bar stools in a low rent redneck bar in the middle of an overcast Dixie afternoon, jukebox man a-pleadin' and a-moanin':
"Oh Sally Sue, what can I do,
I'll never love no one but you,
You run away with my brother Lou,
You took my horse and left me blue..."

There we sat: two lost and lonely cowboys, Flotsam and Jetsam, a pair of pale-faced Yankees anchorless, adrift, and a long way from home. We too were a-pleadin' and a-moanin' about Mona and Mary, feeling very blue indeed. We were getting hard, mean-eyed stares from the surly, suspicious Confederates around us. These good old boys probably thought we were Freedom Riders or gay boys from up North here to drive ole Dixie down one more time. We would make good punching bags to help release all that accumulated venom, thanks in large part to the rantings of those demagogues of their day: George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and other would-be Sons of the South.
This was a world in transition; the South was changing rapidly; the Civil Rights movement was in full career. I would be part of that transition, but not today. Sid and i were not in Alabama to fix anything. We didn't wait for Stonewall's boys to get even for Sherman's March through Georgia. We dismounted our bar stools and sidled on out.
Back on the endless road, driving and dozing, dozing and driving, pouring in cheap oil by the gallon. Sid and I ate barely edible cheap, greasy meals, dark to dawn to day, day to dusk to dark. Alabama to Louisiana, Texas to New Mexico, Arizona to California. That old Ford radio forever blasted out static, chatter, noise and the Beatles:
"We can work it out,
We can work it out..."

Events conspired to remind us of the obvious. We were running away because we couldn't work out any of it: not Mona or Mary, not college or conscience, not family or friends, not past or present or future. It was all a confused and confusing mess. As we made our way through the alien, forbidding Southwest landscape, we brooded. Where, really, were we gong? Why and to what? Why should life be any better in a place we knew no one? Was there a way to make it all better? What of Mona and Mary? Were we giving up forever on them? Questions without answers.
I couldn't see, as Sid and I motored restlessly through the night, that i was speeding to an unlikely deliverance.

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