On April Fool’s the 1st 1982, I stuck out my thumb at 72nd street and Riverside Drive in New York City in my lightweight goose-down jacket and under it a herring bone jacket, jeans, with a sign saying “Mass.” A lawyer in a suit drove me up route to the exit to the Mass pike under a starry sky. A police car soon pulled over. He sat at the wheel for minutes thinking what to do with me, sitting in the back with my bag. Then he broke the rules and drove me out of New York to the toll booths on in Massachusetts, where a young blonde-haired guy getting out of the army was hitching to Georgia.
Later, my teeth chattering and body shaking, I pulled out a white king-size, zip-up cotton mattress covering or bag and crawled in. Shaking with cold inside, I up-righted in the bag in a yoga position saying: “OOHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMM OHMMMMMMMMMM”
The bag – with no good answer – broke up laughing.
Georgia boy got a ride first in the morning. Late morning, an old car eased over – a truck farmer from Pembroke Maine just below Canada who we shall call John B. shoved a pile of newspapers and his dog over for me. John B. was going to his lawyer in Boston to try to sue a pesticide company for doing an aerial series of sprays that caused his sperm count to falter. The case would later falter and his lawyers successfully moved to withdraw from his case.
He invited me to come help him with his plot of land. He would burn it out first then used cedar shavings, he believed didn’t draw bugs. I stayed with my sister, Susan, Andy and their children Val and John on Chestnut Hill in Boston. About a week later they put me on the road to hitch north on Route 1 to John B.’s cabin on Ox Cove Road about fifteen miles from Eastport, Maine on the coast just below Canada
Northern Maine is monotonous miles of pine along the Route 1. A man and woman pulled over and I climbed inside the covered, cargo bed. As I shook the man’s hand many miles later, he said they were just driving because their daughter had died.
I found the coffee restaurant in Eastport people silent and grim. Winter finally stopped beating them down.
I called John B.’s friends Nancy and Tom who picked me up and they took me first to their big rambling farmhouse then to John B.’s secluded cabin. I remember another time there how we looked up mute for some time at a gliding and climbing osprey.
Wolves howled at night. Peepers like a booming orchestra. The next day, I walked and walked and walked. Saw a whale’s back, only the wind gusts and the occasional seagull made any sound. A bandanna’d woman in denim and boots hacked away with her hand tool in the garden next to her neighbor-less cottage, looking out to sea; the worms were good protein and her asparagus were fiddle-head ferns. Walking on a while, back to Route 1, was the only store, a post office and across from it a motel with a mama duck sitting on her eggs on the grass beneath the motel sign.
I walked a long time back to the cabin, the sun almost out. I had to lie and wait very cold on the porch until a rising full moon shone on the combination lock’s face and I dialed it open.
Next morning, I walked up Ox Cove road – a narrow, earthen cut inside a deep forest – to Nancy and Leo’s. Nancy and Leo Silins lived in a big home on log-hewn piers Leo built when he jumped his Latvian ship. He showed me a complete dog sled he repaired pulled from the town dump where you generally brought more back than you took to it. That night, with Nancy, Tom and Nancy’s brother Tommy, ate the two Nancys’ food and salads and we sat around the big fire that roasted a goat on a spit Leo minded. I also met Don M. who grew pot under grow lights and wore a t-shirt saying “Camp Perry” (the secret CIA training facility) with his wild eyes and beard, living in the other direction with Allison, who had a big garden and good judgement.
John B. was slick. He invited us all to his place for “a picnic” and took the children to see the kittens he wanted to get rid of.
John B. and I? It was brief. One day – he smoking his pipe said: “I don’t know, I keep thinking about your sister'” I said don’t you dare and left.
I slept up in the loft at Don and Allisons’. “Big Mouse” – Don called me. We’d watch a PBS series with tea, them in their big floor-level bed, me beside it, about the British bomb crew in World War two.
The big nuclear freeze gathering was scheduled in New York. So, I left for that, going down the road through the pine forests – passed the row of burned-out summer homes of the city folk.
One likely source was a customer of Don’s, who sat with a big rough hand curled around a clay coffee mug one morning at their breakfast table, who said: “AH SHAW DO MISS MAH HARLEY.” The time he was high and realized he was going ninety miles an hour with his feet on the handle bars brought reason. He told us the gang he was in did “a bad thing” with some regret looking down. They rode their bikes over a black man and over and over.
On June 12, 1982
People swarmed into New York City, scared to death of an approaching Reagan/Moscow nuclear war.
A top CIA man named Woody Carter who knew the conversations and thought of the Russians from early 1980s eavesdropping later told me they were really scared to the point of war with Reagan.
Our long, undulating crowd of over a million destined itself at the Union Nations in a sunny brilliance and Buddhist chanting. Then to Central Park – and to home
After dusk, I nested in some wooded area in the Park to sleep. I moved my stuff in the AM to a children’s playground, to inside one of those tunnel mazes that a child crawls through on their hands and knees on sand with a series of little half-moon portals at ground level for light. I awoke in my bag. The shoe of a man’s foot was right there at the portal near my head. I was mouse-quiet. I heard sort of a hydraulic sound of pumping. Then a man said to a man: “What’s your name” “Tom” Where you from? “Ohio.” They left.
The next morning, I took the subway that went furthest north along 95 where I would start the hitch back to Maine. I got in the back of a big car with two wasted guys, as traffic built up near West Hartford. Their eyes were puffy. “Shotgun seat” with black hair was rolling a joint for them both when the driver yanked the wheel with both hands to the left then to the right making us rock like a boat. Pot-roller stopped rolling, looking. Then, driver bolted the car over to the parking lane and – I saw the controls – hit ninety miles an hour.
“Hey!” I said gently and gripping the seat in front of me – as if in: “That’s pretty interesting.” If I panicked, it would have been bad.
Soon, in a casual voice, pointing outstretched: “Uh THAT exit right there is perfect. Thanks a lot, man.”
Outside the LL Bean outlet in Freeport. Maine, an airport shuttle van pulled over. “Jim” had taken people to the airport. The first thing he said as I climbed in was: “The psychiatrist said I’m a psychopathic killer.” Jim had wire glasses, thin wrists. Time passed to the beat of the yellow lines. “I did demolition in ‘Nam. we were ordered to set charges in some tunnels used by the VC. We blew it up.” Then he told me they found out it was a hospital for children. He was reassigned to a post in Germany, was at a bar rail – the guy next to him asked where he was from. Jim said: “Nam” The guy said: “Did you kill any babies?” Jim said he woke up on a hospital bed with over a hundred stitches. “But the other guy got it worse” from the broken bottle Jim used.
Much further north – a car of two nice guys and young woman picked me up and offered sleep at their house. They were ok. I was quiet, listening, as with Jim. We shared a joint on a wooden floor. The woman said later to me: “I was raped. I was selling encyclopedias. Two guys jumped me and threw me in the back of their truck. One was laughing: ‘Just like old times in Nam!’”
Dan and Allison’s was paradise. Came the short season of chop-your-wood for winter, ride your motorcycle and the black fly. We were on high land. One night we stepped outside and shimmering, green sheets of the northern lights all around dove to earth then faded and dodged. The whole sky. And the scent of spring buds mixed with sea salt.
I sensed Don – who would often send his acid tabs to customers looking like postage stamps with Celtic labyrinths on them – was thinking of slipping one in my tea.
With hugs and good-byes, I – “Big Mouse” – moved on.