"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

11 Feb 2015

A Philosophy of Tramping—Jim Christy, Part 2

RETURN TO PART 1

NOTE: Christy's love affair with cars from an early age provides a powerful visual theme throughout his writing. In parts 2 and 3 of this biography, I will, where possible, provide images (not in most cases of the actual car) of the models that Christy describes.

Christy at his parent's home in 'Brookdale' aged 16
Part 1 of this biography ended with eleven year old Christy's devastation at having to leave behind the streets of South Philadelphia (the place he had grown up and established his reputation as a resourceful and popular vagabond) for the tedious vacuity of suburbia. His father had got into some kind of deal with the mob which resulted, around the Christmas of 1956, in him being given a new identity and new home in 'Brookdale',* an hour and a half drive to the outer reaches of Philadelphia. The pose above, reveals an attitdue towards suburbia that, four years on, had not significantly changed.

*Brookdale is the fictional name given for a place that has only negative associations for the author.

     'I loved my life on the streets and was intensely happy. Hell on weekends I was free from early morning until late in the evening. The streets were a rich universe, especially when I started working, at age seven, and later, made forays to downtown, to shine shoes out front of the Trocadero Burlesque parlour. ... Brookdale was no dreary subdivision, either, but more like a dreary small town. The other kids bored me to tears with their flattop haircuts and regimented games. I began to run away as soon as I could manage it, the first time, as soon as school was out, an agonizing seven months after we moved in. I hit the road at the beginning of July, a week or so before my twelfth birthday'. (SG)


First Tramp

And so it was, that soon after commencement of the school holidays in July 1957, Christy enacted his pledge to run away from Brookdale and embarked on his most audacious adventure to date. His parents had departed for Virginia, leaving him safelyso they assumedto stay with a school friend. Christy spent the first few weeks roaming around Pennsylvania. His first night, 'was spent in a trash bin, clean, filled with cardboard and very comfortable, out back of the Hess Brothers Department Store in Allentown.' (EM) From there he travelled to New York, and, six weeks after absconding found himself at the American end of the Niagara Falls bridge:

As Christy lost the only photo he had of the
Count, this one of Colman will have to suffice
     'I was trying to figure out how to get into Canada without papers when this character who looked like a rugged version of Ronald Colman came striding towards the U.S. of A., tapping a cane before him, wearing a short leather jacket and an ascot in August; the toe of one of his army boots was wrapped with electricians tape.' (BM 73)

     'He stopped suddenly, gave the sidewalk a peremptory poke with the tip of his lacquered black cane and fixed me with an imperious gaze ... He was haughty as could be, this fellow I had been laughing at as he came stepping along from the Canada side as if heading a military parade. ... His hair was wavy and steel grey. He had a pencil line moustache.


[...]

     He couldn't have heard me laughing, what with Niagara Falls roaring like that, and the whole time I had been digging him, he was staring straight ahead. Yet, notice me he did, and stopped and I stopped. I was silent for half a minute and perhaps a bit intimidated, he beingto my mindan obvious nut and maybe a trifle dangerous, and me being twelve years old and barely that.* But as soon as he spoke the tension broke. He didn't say, "What the hell you laughing at, kid?" But, rather, "May I enquire as to the subject of your mirth?" And me being a smart alec, answered, "You just did." ' (RP)

*In Beyond the Meridians, Christy gives his age as thirteen on his tramp to Niagara because a prospective publisher told him that no one would believe that he had made this journey aged twelve. For the record, Christy was a week or so short of his twelfth birthday when he made the trip.

As would happen many times during his wanderingsthose situations where one instantly recognises a kindred spiritan immediate bond of comradeship struck up between the child and the adult vagabond. Furthermore, each had been equally amused by the demeanour of the other. The ageing tramp informed Christy that he was just returning from Toronto where he had visited a former servant from his motherland. And in turn, Christy told the ageing hobo that he had run away from home:

    'From day one I wanted no part of it, and nothing happened to change my mind. I bided my time until the summer when school let out and my parents went away for a couple of weeks, down to Virginia where my mother came from, and let me stay at a friends house. Immediately, I flew the coop.
    "And here I am," I told the Count. "I mean, I mean, after all that stuff in Philadelphia, that kind of action, get my meaning, I just can't make it in goddamnded Brookdale." 

[...]

     My folks were due home a week ago but they probably cut their holiday short when they couldn't reach me by telephone at my pal's home. By now the cops were looking for me, 'all-points bulletins' had gone out like in the movies. I tried to feel guilty for hurting them but reasoned that I couldn't feel any worse than I had being there in Brookdale.' (RP)

Instead of showing concern for Christy's plight, or suggesting strategies to reunite the young runaway with his family, his new acquaintance treated Christy as a fellow gentleman of the road. Christy, clearly confused by all this talk of a country estate and servants running around; assuming also that the old mans accent was Canadian, ventured,

   ' "And all this was over there in the motherland, in Canada?"
     "Goodness gracious, no. This was in Mother Russia."
     Russia! Holy shit! thought I. They had come into my Kindergarten class and taken away the teacher because she knew about Russia and here was I standing on a bridge talking to a guy from there.' (RP)

This is how Christy met the ageing Russian Count Navrotolov or Navratilini (depending on which version one reads). Most of the Count's family, including his mother and father, had been slain in the 1917 revolution fighting against the Bolsheviks. He also became separated from his sister, whom he never saw again. After having to abandon his university education, the Count had subsequently served as a soldier for three or four countries, as well as the French Foreign Legion. 

The friendship between the Count and the former servant of his family estate, requires some explanation. On first encountering Kalju again in the West, the Count had had to consider whether the former serf had been involved on the side of the Bolsheviks in the looting and burning of his former employer's home, even murdering the Count's father and mother. But such doubts were soon cast aside on hearing Kalju's own tale. The Count learned that the proletariat utopia had been quickly been supplanted with a new form of tyranny. Kalju was sent to work on a potato farm but the leaders of the revolution, in their wisdom, decided that peasants should work in factories and factory workers move to farms. And so Kalju was relocated to work in a ball bearing factory in the Ukraine. As the Count recalls:

     "It was nothing more than slavery. A brutal joke perpetrated on the poor people by their saviours. And where did Stalin get the idea for this slave system? ... From the factories of capitalist America!" (RP)

Kalju managed to escape to the Baltic but was conscripted by the Nazis when the Russians invaded occupied Estonia in 1944. After the war he was kept at an interment camp in England, then worked in the South Wales coal mines, before eventually making it to the Canadian North West Territories. The Count had first bumped into Kalju on a street in London, England, before renewing their relationship again in Canada. By now, they both shared a common bond as Soviet exiles, although for very different reasons: "The nobleman and the serf. Living testimony to the propaganda of the revolution. It did indeed render us equals." At the time of Christy's meeting with The Count, Kalju was living in a boarding house in an immigrant area of Toronto, surviving on odd jobs and spending his earnings in a drinking club frequented by other economic and political fugitives from Russian expansionism,:

     "They drink. They quarrel. They drink some more and fight the old battles. Each becomes bellicose when the memories take hold. And each stumbles home like Silenus. They are all united, however, in their utter hatred of the Soviets." (RP)

Below is another story related to Christy by the Count, in this case concerning the Count's sexual exploits in Siberia; one that also removed the road kid's last, lingering doubt about his new companion's sexual proclivities:

   ' "I had an eye for the ladies. Even in those Arctic climes. I still do."
     That I was extremely glad to hear. What with him being a Russian and the stuff my mother had told me about certain grown men where little boys were concerned.
     "An eye, if not a terrible lot of opportunities. One evening at a small settlement on the steppes, a young Eskimo girl entered my hut, approaching me with one upraised and clenched fist. I reckoned she was about to have a punch at me. But, no; she threw at me the contents of her hand. And what do you suppose her fist had enclosed?"
     "Search me."
     "Curious choice of words. Lice. She threw at me a handful of lice."
     "Lice? No kidding? Geeze, you must have really offended this Eskimo, huh?"
     "I had offended her not. The opposite, in fact, as it turned out. This, you see, was and perhaps still is, the way, the young ladies make known their desires. One throws love at the object of one's affection. My lice are your lice, sort of thing." ' (RP)

The Count would make a lasting impression on Christy, not least, persuading him to take up reading literature. In any case, the two struck up an immediate friendship and the Count suggested that, as, 'there was no sense standing there betwixt and between ... I might accompany him on a walk if I saw fit. So off we went.' It took the pair a week to walk the sixty miles to Albion, as the Count had to make the rounds of every the rubbish bin along the route; for which reason, as Christy would discover later, the Count had earned the moniker Count Garbage:

     'we tramped and we talked, our gait broken only when the Count paused to scrounge. Spark plugs, toggle switches, chrome backed side view mirrors, mechanical pencils without lead, rubber soldiers, and hunks of metal twisted into intriguing shapes by the passing traffic, all of these engaged his wonder.' (RP)

Christy soon joined in on the scavenging and one day came across a novel about sailing ships with the cover and half the pages missing. He offered it to the Count all the same, from which innocent exchange came a very profound statement; with parallels to my rant about books with beginnings, middles and endings in Part 1:

   ' "You probably won't want it on account of it ends on page 73 in the middle of a sentence."       
     "Doesn't matter in the least. The book is like life itself." ' (BM 75)

And so, on they trudged and rummaged, all the while bearing insults of "dirty hoboes" from kids roaring past and throwing beer cans at them through car windows. But the Count seemed oblivious to such taunts, as though being pelted with beer cans 'was the most natural thing in the world ... To all obscenities, he was deaf.' Some nights the pair slept rough, but at others they would seek hospitality. One night they came across one of those those long stainless steel diners resembling a pullman coach:

'The windows needed washing and the paint was chipped and faded on the cement steps out front. A woman, maybe fifty years old with plenty of make up and bleach blond hair, sat at the counter drinking coffee.'

After drinking soup with a bread roll, the Count announced to Christy that he had arranged for them to sleep the night at the diner, Christy in one of the booths while the Count disappeared into the kitchen with their hostess. After the adults had retired, the young hobo made the most of his situation, helping himself to a White Owl cigar and half a bottle of wine left that had been left out in the diner. After putting five nickels in the juke box, he then settled into the corner booth with his smoke and a tea cup from which to drink the wine.

One night, after sleeping out rough, a simple bit of foraging by the Count was to to have a lasting effect on Christy. That afternoon, the Count picked up a letter from the sidewalk written by a girl who had gone away to college and was writing home to her friend. The young and old hobos discussed the letter from every possible angle, creating different possible narratives about the two friends:

    ' "these are the true literature, these letters I find lying about. Yes, my great regret is that I have not been able to maintain a collection over the years. Being peripatetic, you see. ... Perhaps I might have printed them in one volume someday. I have found them everywhere. Particular favourites I carry about on my person for weeks, months, years, in some cases tucked away in my billfold. Joyful, commonplace, unnerving, pretentious, tragic, excruciatingly boring, and comic. Again, like life itself, and that is the point and why I pick them up. I would call my book Pages From the Sidewalks of Life. What do you think of that?" ' (BM 77)

And so it was, on an instinct thirteen years later, that Christy stooped down to pick up a letter from the sidewalk of a Vancouver street: a dinner invitation from the lieutenant-governor of the city. He has picked up hundreds of such letters over the years, and fragments of letters, ever since. 'I don't pick up laundry lists or shopping lists or advertisements, just correspondence between actual human beings.' Letters picked up from where they were dropped, or had made their way via someone's possessions, the wind, a garbage collection, etc. Some letters were found in places bearing no connection to either the sender or the recipient. Each letter tells part of a story about the lives of random people unknown to their new reader. Nevertheless, now and again, Christy would select a letter or two to ponder over and wonder about the the lives of those involved.

But, unlike the Count, even though he too has discarded or abandoned hundreds of these letters over the years, Christy kept hundreds more in three thick folders on his desk. He continues to reflect on the stories and fates of the letters' characters, and has even contemplated writing a full volume himself, also titled 'Pages from the Sidewalks of Life'. For the time being, a few of these fascinating epistles can be read in the chapter by that name in Between the Meridians (pages 70-83).

Christy laments that, with the advent of electronic text of various forms, 'most people don't write letters anymore.' And furthermore, 'When are they even on the street?' But back to the story of the Count. Christy continued to travel with him to Albion, where they stayed at the house of a Russian friend of the Count's, an Alexi Koschef, who traded in books from a very hot house where the air 'came at you like walls closing in, laden with the odour of fish, cigarettes and unwashed body.' Christy, while grateful for a place to stay the night, was relieved for the opportunity to get some fresh air after Alexi asked if he would pop to the store to get some pretzels (specifying Bavarian pretzels) to go with the vodka he was in the process of pouring out. It was the only occasion on this trip that Christy nearly got apprehended as a runaway. A cop apprehended Christy for stealing the pretzels, and when the storekeeper confirmed that the pretzels had been payed for, the cop, irate at not having made an arrest, looked around for another excuse to persecute Christy:

     'He got hopeful again when he discovered where I was headed. "That Commie, huh?
      I told him I was in the company of my uncle.
     "Is he a Commie too?"
     "No, the both of them, they hate the Commies."
     "Oh, yeah? We'll see about that."
     Into the backseat of the cruiser I went. ... He battered the door with his stick and Koschev opened up ... "Where's my uncle?" ... The count appeared and picked up immediately. 
     "Ah! My little nephew returned from the store andallo!an officer with him! Can I be of some assistance, sir?"
     "Yeah, this here punk with you?"
     "My nephew is with me. What seems to be the problem?" ... The Count was a good six inches shorter than the cop but managed to look down on him.
     "Plenty suspicious characters around."
     "Yes, you are certainly right about that." ' (RP)

Even though Christy had escaped the clutches of the law once again, he acknowledged a feeling of the cops closing in on him. 'They had stopped me plenty of times in the last few weeks'. Furthermore, school would be starting in a week's time and, because the truant officers would be making their rounds again, 'it wouldn't do to be walking down the road in the middle of the day.' The Count had told Christy that he was on his way to work for another Russian aristocrat. She had offered him the position as 'groundskeeper of her run down property ... a polite way of offering the Count a home, if he wanted one.' And so Christy, having to make alternative plans, decided to pick up with his old pal Baseball George in Leon's bar, opposite the Trocadero in downtown Philadelphia and tour the country with him to watch the ball games. The Count approved of the plan, never at any time encouraging Christy to return home or to school.

Alexi was to drive the Count to his new home, and agreed, reluctantly, to drop Christy off at the turn-off for the Philadelphia road. Before they parted, the Count gave Christy a large package wrapped in brown paper. After waving the Count off, Christy unwrapped the package to reveal a photograph of the Count as a dashing young officer, dressed in French Foreign Legion uniform bedecked with medals, and with 'a familiar twinkle in his eye'. Christy later framed the photograph and proudly displayed it in whatever apartment he happened to be residing in, until eventually someone stole it. Christy ends the piece in Between the Meridians by saying that he hoped it would one day be thrown away, adding, 'Perhaps someday it will turn up, there on the sidewalk.'

And so what of Christy's plan to go on the road with Baseball George. On arriving in downtown Philadelphia and Leon's bar, he was met with the sad news that George had collapsed and died in the middle of a baseball game in Wrigley Field Stadium, Chicago. A good ending for George, but Christy's plans were now scuppered. That night he slept on a bench in Independence Mall, only to be awakened early by the stabbing finger of a uniformed police officer, thrusting a photograph of the fugitive, complete with description, in Christy's face:

     "You know," he said, studying the photograph, "you look better since your hair grew out."
     "Yeah, tell that to my mother."
     "You tell her. We're gonna see her soon. I'm afraid, it's all over, kid."
     "Don't bet on it."
     He laughed, "Let's go." (RP)


Further Adventures During High-School

In spite of the punishments Christy brought down on himself for running away from home and school, the wanderlust was to prove too powerful a pull to resist. The following Spring, Christy ran away again after reading a Sunday magazine supplement about the Beat Generation. The article mentioned where the beats hung out in Philadelphia and so Christy ran away to find them. And find them he did, and stayed with them for six weeks until they all got busted in a coffee shop raid:

     'there was a heap of trouble because I was underage. I had a 18 or 19 year old girl and they tried to pin a morals charge on the beatniks. I had no idea what a beatnik was and had never read any of the associated authors or any other authors, for that matter.' (EM)

In between his excursions on the road, Christy did try hard to attend to his studies and get through high-school; the quicker to fulfil his travelling ambitions. Oddly, it had never occurred to him at the time that he could have just quit school in exchange for a vagabond's life. So he stayed in school for as long as he could bear, and before the impulse to decamp became irresistible once more. I have already mentioned that, in addition to being afflicted by the wanderlust, Christy's was also captivated by society's oddballs and exiles, those authentic characters who embraced their difference and to hell with the rest of society's narrow minded conventions and prejudices. On more than one occasion, both before and during high-school, Christy sought to satisfy his yearning for the strange and exotic in the company of carnival 'freaks' and roustabouts, no doubt stimulating his interest by reading Amusement Business, the weekly magazine of the fairground, carnival and theme park trade (that only ceasing publication in 2006). More of Christy's carnival adventures later, but it is worth noting here the respect and high regard Christy had for carnival performers, and the disgust he felt towards those redneck bigots with morbid curiosity at best, and at worst, actual bodily harm, even murder, towards those described as 'freaks of nature'. 

One particular sideshow performer who made a lasting impression on Christy, was Frances O'Connor. She had been born without arms and made her livelihood appearing in carnivals demonstrating her skills at eating, drinking, smoking, etc., using her feet. Christy first met O'Connor on his travels at the age of sixteen. He would meet O'Connor again at the age of eighteen when making a trip down south with his parents. They had stopped at a Howard Johnson's restaurant at Arlington Virginia when O'Connor came in with some other circus folk. Again, it was the morbid curiosity that the performer attracted (including from his own folks) that roused Christy to anger:

My main memory ... was not the view of her thighs and white panties that this [O'Connor eating and drinking with her feet] afforded, but the stares of the other diners. The dumb and rude looks she got which shocked me and, later, when I worked in carnivals, I saw these people again, rubes staring at the freaks.' (SG) 

O'Connor (second from left below) starred in the 1932 horror movie Freaks, directed by Tod Browning. The success of Browning's first film Dracula (1931) ensured his success in the movie industry, and hence freedom to produce Freaks. Like Christy, Browning also ran away to join the circus at 16, a clear influence on Freaks. But the original version of the movie was banned due to controversy over certain scenes and the use of its cast members. And although it had been Brownings intention to portray the carnival performers in a positive light, the reception of the final movie wrecked Browning's movie career.

Cast of Freaks (1932)

Christy's description of carnival life in 'Alligator Man' (Jackpots 45-50), evokes similar scenes to those in Jim Tully's Circus Parade, when local residents armed with tyre irons, baseball bats, etc., descended on the carnival to wreak fear and havoc among the troupe. Their particular targets being the freaks of nature who provoke fear and loathing among certain sections of the provincial minded. According to Tully, it was not unusual for circus folk to lose their lives at the hands of local thugs, and having no family of their own, would receive all due rights and ceremony within their circus community. Unlike the rednecks described above, Christy had nothing but admiration and respect for the carnival performers and wanted a part of the life. He spotted an advert for a 'roughie' in Amusement Business weekly for a show he calculated he could join at their 'tear down' in Kokomo, Indiana. And so, after spending 24 hours in Canton County Jail, Ohio, for hitchhiking on the Interstate and refusing to pay the fine, Christy made it to the carnival in time to help with the final tear down and loading up for the next show. So it was that Christy found himself pulling up tent pegs in Dubuque, Iowa, with his new friend, Leland the Alligator Boy, when local rednecks decided to attack the carnival:

     'Most of the carnies engaged directly in the battle, others saw to getting the freaks into trailers and trucks because they were the operations most valuable assets. The yokels no doubt told themselves that they'd be striking a blow for America if they put the boots to a pinhead. Only Jenny the fat lady got into any kind of hand to hand combat but the dwarf, Big Marty, used his cut down bow and arrow from a perch on the roof of a Mack cab and protected by the the rise of the trailer. The arrows were metal-tipped and effective.' (JP 48-49)

The fight lasted about twenty minutes while the police just stood on the sidelines and watched. When the last remaining tent was set alight they stepped in to protect, not the carnival property, but a nearby shopping centre and truck park. Christy spent the rest of the night with Leland going over the events of that evening and drinking cheap brandy. After a month with the carnival Christy left them at Denver, with the intention of beating a train to San Francisco and there acquiring passage on a ship to Hawaii. But we are ahead of our story, the Hawaii trip would not happen for a further five years, and Christy's first encounter with Frances O'Connor was still a year away...


 

In May of 1960, still aged fifteen, Christy surprised his mother (never having attended a school outing before) by pleading with her to allow him to go on a school trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. But Christy's enthusiasm for joining the trip, was not because he had any interest in becoming a naval cadet; Annapolis was the home of WEXI, 'the radio station that I listened to at night in my room while supposedly doing my homework.' (BM 14) So keen was Christy to get to Annapolis, that he even agreed to get his hair cut and wear the obligatory checkered sports jacket and tie:

     'It took only a couple of hours to get to Annapolis and, not surprisingly, I had a seat to myself. Staring out the window I tried to ignore the antics of my class mates who bopped each other on the head, let go the usual sounds of flatulence and made fun out loud of those below them in the hierarchy. And none was lower in the hierarchy than me.' (BM 15)

Already at thirteen, Christy felt exiled from main stream society, even though he was, of course, a self-imposed exile. He had nothing but contempt for the vacuity of the human herd, represented here by his classmates, who in turn, because of their stupidity, looked down on Christy. But he knew things, and imagined other things, that their tiny world of banality could never contemplate. The events that took place on this trip, illustrate just the kind of outcast Christy was. His thirst for adventure always outweighed pragmatic considerations, in this case, the trouble that would be brought down on his head for transgressing societal rules. For those with the wanderlust running through their veins, life is too short and mundane for happiness to be postponed. There is a sense of urgency, coupled with childish innocence to grab the moment when it presents itself. For tramps and Cynics alike, heaven can be acquired here on earth, even if it's pleasures are few and fleeting in an otherwise disappointing and disagreeable world.

And so, while trudging in file through the streets of Annapolis with his classmates, all the time looking for signs of his favourite black recording artists, Christy eventually spotted a poster stapled to a telegraph pole advertising a live concert, including Bobby Bland and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, to perform in town that very night.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins
     'Our bus was to leave for Brookdale at five, the show started at eight. If I disappeared from the crowd and stayed over, it would cause trouble, a lot of trouble. ... The dance probably wouldn't be over until midnight and, of course, I'd have to find a place to stay until morning. I had six dollars in my pocket. Naturally, they'd suspend me from school for the standard three days ... Then there was the hassle on the home front. My mother would go on the rampage, suspend all privilegessuch as they weredouble the chores and, worst of all, keep referring to the incident for months. All that versus the chance to see Jay Hawkins, Bobby Blue Band and the Ebonylites, whoever they were. I considered both sides of the issue and made my decision. It took a New York minute.' (BM 18)

The concert itself, in particular Screamin' Jay Hawkins famous theatrics, such as appearing from inside a coffin on stage, is described in the first chapter of Between the Meridians titled 'Spell on Me': a reference to the Hawkins' hit, I Put a Spell on You. The most painful part of the whole affair, was not the fallout following Christy's return home, it was having to attend the gig dressed like 'the apex of Junior Jaycee fashion'. But attend the show he did, and later walked around the dark Annapolis streets too excited to sleep, until finally crashing in a room at a black boarding house:

     'In the morning, after a breakfast of eggs, grits, side bacon and cornbread, everything sprinkled liberally with Louisiana hot sauce, I hit the road, goosing the ghost towards home and another kind of pandemonium that awaited me there.' (BM 23)

And it would be a full three weeks before Christy did arrive home, suffering suspension from school and the wrath of his mother for his trouble. After this episode of absconding, Christy became aware that for every unauthorised day he spent out of school, three points were being deducted from each of his school grades. He figured that if he carried on tramping, he would never graduate and be free to follow his dreams. For this reason, Christy tried to confine his wanderings to the weekends or vacation times when school was closed. He would embark on a Friday evening after school and return on Sunday evening, even early on Monday morning. He calculated a two hundred and fifty mile limit that a two day return trip could be made, either hitchhiking or by bus if he had the funds:

     'Wheeling, West Virginia, is the town that was on the edge of my trip perimeter. ... I did this for years: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, D.C., Richmond (265 miles), even Boston but that as pushing it.' (EM)

On one of these forays from high school, Christy admits to having made it as far as Piqua, Ohio, around 600 miles from Philadelphia (SG/EM). This maybe because on his sixteenth birthday in July 1961, Christy was able to obtain his provisional driver's licence, even though he did not always have access to a car. And even though Christy stopped missing school, he was still getting into big trouble at home:

     'I suffered at home until graduation. There was a two month interlude in what they called Reform Schoolthe place no longer exists and I won't name it. I liked it better than I did high school. I got out because the real culprit confessed.' (EM) 

     'I was a month from my seventeenth birthday, it was June 1962, and I was no angel. I'd just been freed from custody after being wrongfully charged in an episode involving a car, another guy, his knife, and his girlfriend. Although my innocence was eventually established, it was obvious even to me that the path I was on led to more trouble and more after that. I would probably have some fun along the way, but I could already see the shadow of the Big House' (JK 33-34)

'54 Mercury Monterey two door hardtop
Christy relates only one anecdote from his time in reform school. He had known this Italian kid prior to his incarceration and met up with him again in reform school. He describes Golf Ball as having those 60s teen idol looksof the Fabian varietythat had girls swooning at him, the more so because he drove around in a '54 Mercury two door hardtop. Christy describes how the kid secreted golf balls in the ashtray, between the seats, and other convenient places in his car. When he took a girl for a ride in his car and started petting, he would get himself aroused by pushing a golf ball into her vagina. Presumably word got around, amongst much sniggering, via the young women of the neighbourhood. Hence the moniker. But on meeting up again in reform school, Christy could not resist asking him why the golf balls, particularly when the kid had everything else going for him. The kid's response was that Christy must be some kind of idiot not to appreciate the finer arts of lovemaking. To add to the absurdity of the tale, Golf Ball had a friend he hung out with who had chronic acne boils evenly distributed on his face making his head resemble a golf ball, and so presumably deriving double the grief as a result. End of sporting digression (TC). 

If Christy had been wrongfully arrested on this occasion, he was, as he admits, no angel. Neither did doing time in the 'big house' turn him into a reformed character, as the following passage about his love of cars testifiesall the while asserting the kind of Robin Hood morality discussed in Part 1:

     'Not only did I fix cars ... I began to steal them. Not for larcenous reasons, not to vandalise them, and not for the hell of it. I just loved cars, and couldn't wait two years to get my own driver's licence. I'd take them from parking lots, drive around, and return them later to another section of the same lot.' (JK 37)


Literary Awakening

Be that as it may, following his release from reform school, Christy got his job back at a old style bazaar, making and selling caramel popcorn. And it was through a chance purchase at a bookstore in the bazaar, that Christy would discover his love of literature. At the same time, validating his idiosyncratic persona. Christy had always been aware of his outcast status. Not fitting in with any tribe, the distinctions of which were 'exactly defined and cruel', he acknowledges that he 'was the guy least likely to have a date' in his home town, being neither 'a brain, an athlete, a greaser, a straight-arrow, nor what was called a fairy.'

As part of a three-for-a-quarter deal in the bookstore, Christy picked up a bio on Babe Ruth from the 'sport' section for his brother, and two volumes at random from the section in the bookstore labeled 'SSSEX!' Up until that time, Christy's reading had been confined to hot rod magazines! But, heeding the Count's parting words to him to take up reading, Christy returned to the popcorn booth to start his education. After discarding the Babe Ruth bio, and getting bored with a book about a young kid's rise to pop stardom, complete with an illustration on the back-cover of scantily clad bimbos posing on the ladder of his success, Christy became mesmerised with the third book which he described as, 'characters careening across country in automobiles in search of kicks.' (JK 34-35) This book, that had been carelessly tossed in the section marked 'sex' for being unclassifiable, was Jack Kerouac's On The Road.

In On The Roadit's characters and it's authorChristy at last found his tribe, his family; even if a common feature of that family was to be exiled from mainstream society, and sometimes from each other. Of course (at least for those who were straight or bisexual), they also shared some of the same preoccupations as the average American male: bars, fast cars, and the inside of bra's. But they also represented everything that your average all American hero, patriot and good ol' boy was not; the kind of unconventional behaviour, dress and hairstyle that marked one out as 'un-American'a rather paradoxical designation considering that this is a nation built on cultural diversity and the pioneering spirit!

Of course, Christy had fully identified with Kerouac long before he'd ever heard of him: 'I was prepared for On the Road. The experiences related therein were not entirely alien to me.' But discovering Kerouac was the first time that Christy became aware of anyone else who shared his unorthodox obsessions: wanderlust; beating trains; unscheduled road trips; an affinity with the mad, the bad and outright weird, and his love of jazz (in those days, synonymous with being a communist):

     'I learned that my interests and enthusiasms were not pathological as I'd been led to believethat, in fact, they were inclinations worthy of celebration in a book, a book that was not merely anecdotal, a book I must have realized intuitively was important literature.'

But back to that singular moment sitting in the popcorn booth, being mesmerised for the first time by the written word, an experience that would later fuel his desire to become a writer himself:

     'The back cover of the third book had a tiny photo of the author in the bottom left hand corner. He was a rugged-looking guy who needed a shave. ... I started reading. I was hooked from the first line. And that first line, the first page, even the way the page looked, has remained burned in my mind, just as the characters burned like roman candles. ... Immediately, I began to live with the characters in On the Road. I didn't read the book so much as experience it. Probably for the first time since childhood games, I was so thoroughly absorbed that I had not thought of myself or for myself. The odd time a customer called, I filled the order as if in a trance.' (JK 35)

And here we have Christy's view of the wider importance of Kerouac's work:

     'Of course, I had not a clue that the book was already famous and those scenes which to me were fraught with such importfor reasons I didn't quite understand and couldn't explainhad already meant much the same to others ... I've spoken to people who, upon reading On the Road, immediately quit their jobs, their school, and set out for adventure. Often they put aside an entire way of thinking about the world, and their own world widened with new music to listen to, new books to readbut the most important, and most overlooked, of the gifts in that book, and all others written by Kerouac, is the gift of compassion.' (JK36)


Getting Drunk with LBJ
Luci Banes Johnson

One particular event that took place in October 1963, is included here for no other reason than it provides a unique insight into a less flattering side of Lyndon B. Johnson; at the time Vice-President. A friend of Christy's had been dating a girl whose father was a close friend of LBJ. This girl had a friend whose father was also a close aid of LBJ, and Christy's friend had fixed them up with a weekend date with the two girls in Washington. That evening they went to LBJ's house to check out if his youngest daughter, Luci Baines, wanted to hang out with them. She declined, but as they were leaving the house one of the other girls asked Lucy, Whats your father doing tonight? To which she replied, Oh, probably, the usual." As they drove away, Christy asked what the usual was:

     “Many times ol’ Lyndon has a few too many,” said Cathy. “And some of those times he comes by my house or Charlene’s. Wants to see our fathers who are usually asleep by then like most people.”

The foursome went to some clubs but only the girls could buy alcohol as a local law only  permitted women to be served at eighteen and men not until they were twenty-one. The story on returning to Cathy’s home is told by Christy:

     'The basement had been decorated to resemble a tavern with a mahogany bar, a pool table, leather chairs. We were down there playing records, drinking and dancing. Long about two in the morning, there was the sound of heavy footsteps from outside, by the window five or so feet off the ground.
    “What the hell’s that?”
    “It’s probably Lyndon,” one of the girls said. And there came the Vice President of the United States, rear end first into the rec room.
    It didn’t bother him, seeing Jamie and me there. He smiled a big loose smile and asked for a shot of bourbon. Jamie normally outgoing and a bit of a braggart was awed and he shrunk back. Cathy and Charlene treated the Vice-President like the wayward uncle. I made him a drink and handed it to him. He thanked me, glanced at the table and suggested a game of pool. I am one of the worst pool players of all time, but Lyndon Johnson wasn’t any better. 
    “Not my game,” he drawled.
    He held his empty glass out to one of the girls, I held my own out. They treated me with new respect, seeing that Lyndon had taken to me. Later, they said that he usually ignored strangers.
    After we’d had a couple bourbons together, he said, “How come you don’t ask me a bunch of political questions and that kind of thing?”
    “Aw, you probably get enough of them all day, Mr. Johnson.”
    “You damn right about that. Ask me some other kind of question. And call me Lyndon.”
    I had just a year or so earlier discovered the novel “On the Road,” the writer Jack Kerouac, the beat generation and a whole new wide world. I was profoundly influenced by all that, and, having had the right amount to drink, I asked, “What do you think of Jack Kerouac, Mr.,um, Lyndon?”
    He straightened up, having been leaning over the table, fixed his eyes on me, he was about six feet, one, but he seemed like a giant; he had that weirdest of traits, charisma. I had no idea what he might say but what he said was, “Son, I went on the road when I was a boy. Bunch of us piled into an old Chevy and drove to California. Had us more fun that a barrel of monkeys. None of these middle class people I have to deal with all day every day ever did anything like that.”
    He told stories about that trip and other trips when he drove all over Texas garnering votes and making promises, told about the weird characters of the backcountry.
    Eventually, the girls telephoned someone to drive him home. (“You get so-and-so to come fetch the vice-president.”) ' (SG)


Further Adventures 

The day after Christy graduated from high school in 1963, he headed down to Virginia on a deal that didn't work out, ended up living with his aunt in Petersburg, and got himself a job at an Amoco petrol station outside the Fort Lee Army Base (FB 40). A few weeks later Christy bought a 1949 Hudson, not surprisingly the same model as the one driven by Kerouac's friend and travelling companion, Neal Cassady, in On the Road

That same year, after sparring in a gym to earn some money, Christy was encouraged by a trainer to take a couple of professional fights. He won both but decided there were less risky ways of making money. Then in the fall of that year, hungry for a taste of the beat culture he had discovered in the writings of Kerouac and his early flirtation with the beats in Philadelphia, Christy decided to enrol in University:

     'College would, I thought, consist of professors with enthusiasms to pass on and students eager to absorb it all; there would be all-night discussions about Camus and Sartre, and wild wine and marijuana parties with beatnik coeds. There was none of that. The courses were dull and easy and the students invariably buttoned down. I was so bored I stopped attending classes to work full-time in the college shipping and receiving department. My chores didn’t take more than a couple of hours each shift, the rest of the time I spent hidden away at the back of the warehouse, sprawled on crates, reading. I liked the job mainly because it enabled me to get in a minimum of hours of paid reading but also because the head of the department was a dead ringer for Henry Miller. I called him `Henry.’ He never asked me why I did this and he probably didn’t give a shit. His name was Louie.
    One Sunday morning, my nemesis, the dean of men as well as the football coach, Dr. Glenn Killinger, who had been on Walter Camp’s very first collegiate All-America football team, burst into my room at my off-campus residence and caught me in bed with a female. This was what he called The Final Straw. I mean coming after all my other major infractions like not wearing my freshman beanie, not showing patriotic zeal when they gathered students together to salute the flag, for being caught reading suspect material.' (SG)

One of such occasions involved a two hour lecture, standing to attention in Killinger's office, on the virtues of being pro-American and the evils of communism, after Killinger saw Christy strolling through the quad reading—sin of sins—a copy of the City Lights Annual. And so it was, in January of 1964, only three months after enrolment, that Christy was expelled from University and, for reasons he no longer remembers, headed for Memphis, Tennessee. After a couple of aborted jobs, Christy returned to downtown Philadelphia where he got himself a job with the Philadelphia Electric Company. It would be Christy's longest paid job, lasting a full year until he quit in January 1965:

     'Everyone assured me that my future was secured. I showed promise, they declared, working as a glorified messenger boy on the executive floor, running errands for the President, the Chairman of the Board, and the two Senior Vice-Presidents. ... the work was easy and often even fun. Occasionally, I would while away an afternoon buying theatre tickets for one of the bosses or picking up a gift for his wife or delivering a message to someone at the Union Club on Broad Street. The doorman of that august establishment would nod and call me 'Sir.' '

Sometimes Christy would accompany a chauffeur to the airport to meet VIPs. On one occasion it was the actress Gene Simmons who was the celebrity guest at a promotion at Wanamaker’s department store. Christy had to ride with her in the backseat of the car, act as her bodyguard at the store, and show her to the hotel afterwards:

     'When we got to her door, and I was saying good-bye, she invited me in for a drink and I learned the truth of the expression 'weak in the knees.' She was by far the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.' (SG)

But most of Christy's work involved photocopying and fetching coffee rather minding celebrities, even so, he was popular and well treated. He used his spare time to indulge his new found love of books, even attending night classes in ancient Greek literature. He tells in Shift and Glitter how one evening, a copy of Ulysses in his hand, he boarded the executive elevator to go home and the Chairman of the Board stepped in behind him: 'He smiled at me when he saw the book and began to recite Homer in the ancient Greek. After that elevator ride, whenever I saw him, we’d talk about Homer or Euripides.' But Christy was not destined for a life in an office: 'I lasted a year and gave my notice. They were disappointed. Told me to think it over, that I was about to make a very big mistake.'


1965
Collage on cardboard by Christy chronicalling this episode of his adventures
1965 was a momentous year, not just for Christy, but for America as a whole. The following list of events (in chronological order) demonstrates just what a crazy year it was:
  • Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in as president for second term, announces his "Great Society"
  • Malcolm X assassinated 
  • State Troopers clash with civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama
  • First American troops arrive in Vietnam
  • Martin Luther King leads second attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery
  • Police clash with 600 members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Montgomery
  • 1,600 civil rights marchers descend on Montgomery Court House
  • Voting Rights Bill lodged with Congress 
  • Third march from Selma to Montgomery attracts 25,000 people. Led by Martin Luther King
  • Around 270 people killed in series of 50 tornadoes in 6 Midwestern states
  • US troops sent to Dominican Republic to prevent a "communist takeover"
  • First public burning of Vietnam War draft cards
  • US troops in Vietnam increased from 75,000 to 125,000, and number drafted increases from 17,000 per month to 35,000
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law
  • Watts Race Riots. 34 killed and 1,032 injured over the week of rioting
  • Hurricane Betsy kills 76 in New Orleans
  • First draft card burner arrested under a new law
  • 100,000 involved in anti-war demonstrations in 80 cities across America
  • Also, the "space race" was well underway, with nine separate US space missions in 1965 alone
As will be seen, Christy was directly involved with, or influenced by, some of these events, spawning a whirlwind of adventures on and off the road. It was also a year in which Christy met people who would change his life, and experienced events that would affect his view of the world. Indeed, so much happened in this one year that it is not always possible, even for Christy, to maintain an accurate chronology of events. But then neither is it entirely necessary for an appreciation of the tale that now unfolds. However, with Christy's help, I will try and present the events of 1965 in the order they happened.

After seeing in the New Year with a girl named Carolyn Treece whom he'd met the night before, and staying with her at her parents house for three days—they, having spent the festivities elsewhere—Christy headed off to Florida to enjoy some winter sunshine. And it was in Florida that Christy first met Val Santee at a bus stop during the first week of January in 1965, both headed for Miami. This is how he describes his first impression of Santee:

     'I first noticed Val Santee because he reminded me of a guy I had gone to high school with or, rather, he reminded me of the other guy’s cowboy cousin. He was a rougher version, dressed like a ranch hand who’d left his boots in the bunk house and put on brogans for his trip to the tropics. I went back to sleep and didn’t think of the guy again until we nodded recognition at the rest stop.' (SG)

When they got back on the bus, it was Santee who approached Christy first, walking to the back of the bus and asking, 'if he might take the seat across the aisle, very awkward and polite.' Although Christy says he didn't look like the reading type, he inquired about the book Christy was reading. The two immediately hit it off, discovering that they had much in common, including a shared feeling of alienation from mainstream society. 'The point, as far as Val Santee and I were concerned, is that we were the only ones anywhere near our age that we knew or had even heard of who thought any way at all as we did.' This is the story Santee told Christy (all in Shift and Glitter):

Val Santee
Santee, a half Cherokee Indian whose great-grandmother had perished on the Trail of Tears, was only sixteen when he'd been expelled from school, had been married for over a year and was the father of one child with another on the way. He'd found a job in a local grocery store but the manager had fired him after asking if he was 'the notorious high school commie.' Not yet seventeen, out of work, and with an infant son and heavily pregnant wife to support, Santee had robbed a gas station, and after being caught had been, 'given the usual choice for those days, of jail or the army.' He chose the army, but not being able to adjust to the discipline, he was forever getting into trouble:

     'The first time he went to the stockade was when he would not obey an order to fish a cigarette butt out of a latrine urinal. The order giver, one of those crewcuts, was not satisfied with his explanation that it wasn’t his cigarette butt. The sergeant’s response to that was to order him to pick it out with his teeth. Thirty days.'

After his release he went AWOL, got captured, and so began a cycle of misdemeanours and punishments until he was given orders to ship out to Korea. “I told them, I wouldn’t report for duty, and if they shipped me out by force, I’d go over to the North Koreans.” Eventually, the army, tiring of such a determined rebel, finally give him a general discharge. But there were still no jobs in his hometown, so he took work away and sent money home. The strain of his responsibilities, loneliness, and being hungry for travel and adventure, Santee finally abandoned his family and set out for Cuba, via Miami, where he picked up with Christy.

    Val later told me that he was amazed when I neither criticized his politics and view of the world nor made moral judgements about his abandoning wife and kids. After that night, dug down in the sand, talking, the rhythm of the waves, the stars in the black sky, we became the closest of friends. We discovered, furthermore, that although our political perspectives were different, we both wanted to see a radical transformation of government and society. 

     'We had so much in common and were different in so many ways. He brooded, disappeared into some dark place, came out of it and was ebullient, wanting to rush around and have adventures. [...] Val would disappear, sometimes for days at a time but he always returned with allusions to certain “friends” he had. Friends I never met. He would be evasive, like he was doing some hush-hush underground work. I do know for a fact that he spent time at the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.' (SG)

Christy stayed in Miami until the end of the winter, getting the odd job when he was broke such as sparring with professional boxers, washing dishes in a seafood restaurant, and three weeks in a Miami hotel doing pretty much everything expected of him, which included keeping the female guests entertained. The job advertisement specified, “Must be in good physical shape, clean and presentable.

On Begging

'49 Studebaker Land Cruiser
Eventually the pair decided to hitchhike back up north and were offered a lift by a nineteen year old 'hillbilly greaser' named Pete, and his pregnant fourteen year old wife Marie. Pete was driving 'a ’49 Studebaker with rusting wheel wells and bald tires. It spewed blue-grey smoke from the exhaust pipe and stopped with a screech of metal on metal.' The couple did not have a cent between them, everything having been blown by Pete on the car, which, in the short time that Val and Christy spent with them, required significant amounts of money in gas, oil and tires just to keep it on the road. Val and Christy marvelled at how easily Pete and Marie managed to acquire everything for their needs. Their scam involved finding a church or a minister's house and informing the minister that they were hardworking Christians trying to get home, and that they needed petrol, oil, a gasket, etc., and of course food. The minister would furnish them with a note to give to the local gas station attendant, and their needs would be met. Christy describes their modus operandi when it was his turn to work the scam:

     'I remember walking with Marie up to the door of a minister’s house, Pete’s wedding ring on my hand, in some little Florida town, her keeping her distance until we rang the bell. When the door opened she was stuck to my side, and sticking her belly toward the minister. She looked about to cry. I told the guy that we were trying to get back to North Carolina and my wife was pregnant. We had jobs and family up there, were legally married and hardworking Methodists (naturally, the denomination changed to fit the parson or the church.) I was surprised when the guy had his wife make us sandwiches, and gave us some money out of his pocket. I thanked him profusely, and when we were back in the car Marie made fun of the guy for being a sucker and mocked me for being so polite to him.
    Our biggest score lead to our arrest. It was Sunday in Hobe Sound. While the car was up on the lift getting new tires, a lube and a gasket for the oil pan, we repaired to a restaurant on the main drag. The staff, knowing we were charity cases, gave us lousy service, slamming down our plates, spilling our coffee, talking about us amongst themselves and to the other customers. Maybe it was out of general hostility or perhaps because we each grabbed a cigar upon leaving, that someone called the cops. The guy was waiting for us as we pulled away from the service station. A tall trooper with a John B. Stetson hat and mirrored shades. He chewed his gum slowly, lips covering his teeth.' (SG)

The trooper was not happy with the car's papers and when he asked them if they'd ever been arrested previously, they all lied except Pete, who stupidly admitted to spending a year in a reformatory for auto theft.  Being a Sunday, the four vagabonds had to spend a night in the cells before they could be brought before the judge the following morning. Fortunately for them, the judge appraised the situation for what it was: 

     'He realized that Pete wasn’t the smartest hillbilly to come out of the holler and that the process of registering a motor vehicle properly was a mite beyond his capacities. And he even smiled when I said, “Judge, you’ve seen the thing. If we were going to steal a car, I’m sure you don’t really think we’d steal something like that?"
     He did a pretty good job, for the trooper’s sake, of covering up his smile. The trooper went from beside himself with joy at busting an auto theft ring to fit to be tied when our sorry-ass crew walked out of the hoosegow as free citizens.' (SG)

1959 Pontiac Bonneville convertible
The next night, after spending an hour by the roadside fixing the exhaust pipe, the four spent a night at a tramp hostel by a lake way off the main road. Christy's description of the place and it's inhabitants is absurdly comical. By this time the Studebaker was on its last legs and, because it could not make highway speed, they were forced to crawl along side roads, eventually leaving Pete and Marie at a service station in Jessup, Georgia. They walked out of town, got a lift in an old Dodge with a farmer, then another from some members of Little Richard's band in a gleaming yellow Pontiac Bonneville convertible. The trip continued in the same fortuitous fashion, introducing all kinds of odd characters and situations, but the following account after alighting from the Pontiac Bonneville emphasises just how primitive the South still remained even post the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

     'They let us off somewhere in South Carolina and we went immediately to a gas station to piss. There was a “White Men” and a “White Women” washroom. On the side of the building was scrawled the word: “coloured” above an arrow that pointed to the rear. The coloured washroom was a hole in the dirt surrounded by a few planks and branches stuck into the ground.
     Val, despite my warning, stormed into the office to protest this injustice. The man calmly reached into his desk drawer, pulled out the first .357 Magnum I’d ever seen, showed us each the barrel of it, then levelled it at Val, saying, “Niggers piss different from me, and I got this here for anyone who says they piss the same as me.” ' (SG)

Christy had to persuade his friend not to take the matter further as, even if they didn't wind up shot, he reasoned they'd likely get jailed for disturbing the peace on the basis that all the other whites in town were likely to be of the same persuasion. Shortly after this Val took off again, and when Christy realised that he wasn’t coming back, he decided to pay another visit to Carolyn Treece, the girl he'd met on New Year’s Eve. 

     'She was glad to see me. “I hope you’ve gotten that kind of thing out of your system,” Carolyn’d said when she answered my knocking on her door. By which she meant my wanderlust. I didn’t tell her I’d only begun.' (SG)

Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights Marches



And so it was, that after playing house for three days and uncomfortable at being in her parents’ house, Christy headed off for Selma, Alabama. After taking a train to Memphis, and being aware of the treatment that could be expected for northern rabble rousers with long hair arriving in Selma, Christy, savvy as ever, visited a local barbershop:

     'I came out of there resembling your average redneck, shaved up the sides, a little pompadour; an idiot in other words (few of your genuine rednecks had crewcuts). I caught the night bus to Selma, and practiced my southern accent on some of my fellow passengers. Hell it wasn’t difficult to slip into. I’d made my first sounds south of the Mason-Dixon, and grown up listening to my mother’s way down home drawl. Nobody questioned me, said, “You sound funny, boy. Where you from?” [...] Selma resembled the set of a movie about fascism come to America. A Dixie police state. The bus station at seven in the morning bristled with hatred. None of it directed at me. I saw other guys from up north, stupid enough to have hit town with their longer-than-average curly locks, collegiate sideburns and broadcloth, striped shirts, with corduroys ... Out on the streets, there seemed to be plenty of citizens interested in baseball, at least they carried Louisville Sluggers, and walked around as if heading for batting practice.' (SG)


After hanging around for a bit watching Martin Luther King Jr.—in the company of a young Jesse Jackson—trying to make speeches and being thwarted, Christy wandered around trying to pick up information from police and local rednecks that might be of use to the demonstrators, before heading back into town where he spent 'a lonely night in a hotel room that smelled of chewing tobacco and reminded me of the one Robert Mitchum had at the beginning Cape Fear.'
       
     'The next day not long after noon, a massed force of police and firemen attacked those of us who had congregated in the town square in an impromptu protest. There had been confrontations all night and throughout the early morning hours. Most of these, it is beyond any doubt, were instigated by police. The blacks were still, by what seemed to me almost otherworldly self-control, maintaining a non-violent front. I suppose the police and firemen and their vicious cohorts were eager to wreak some mayhem and spill some blood. [...] They had billy clubs, baseball bats, lengths of chain, iron bars and worst than any and all of these: fire hoses. ... The pressure was enough to kill half a dozen of those unfortunate enough to take the full force of the blasts to their stomachs or heads. I saw a geyser of blood erupt from the mouth of one man my age, and at the same time, saw the back of his pants turn dark with blood, blood flowed from his eyes and ears too. Another kid, hit in the back was hurtled ten feet through the air and against the broad trunk of a sycamore tree. I managed to keep in back of the guys holding the hoses by circling the opposite of the way they moved. But I was knocked down in the melee and trampled. Someone stepped on my head, I stood up and was hit across the lower back by a baseball bat.' (SG)

For his trouble, Christy spent the night crushed into a cell, black and white together, witnessing the brutalities of the police:

     'Two cops were pulling on the arms of an immense black lady, which caused her to topple forward down the two narrow steps at the back of the wagon. When she hit the ground that was all the cops and their accomplices needed. They went to work on her with their clubs and bats, not sparing any part of her body. I’m sure they smashed her skull in. They must have. She was never seen inside the jail, no ambulance came. The last I saw of her, some men had her by the ankles and were attempting to drag her off.' (SG)

When those inside the cell started voicing their outrage at what they had witnessed, the police started smashing at the hands that were gripping the bars:

     'All night, people moaned and cried. Some with smashed knuckles, broken fingers and broken hands, others from sheer hopelessness and despair. Blacks and white crying together, and keeping each other upright. We had succeeded in integrating the Selma cell blocks.' (SG)

Further Tramping with Val Santee

After returning to Philadelphia, Christy spent the the next few days at the public library reading philosophy 'which I still was young enough to believe held some answers.' He then got some work posing nude for life drawing classes, before being invited back by one of the students to her apartment where he spent the following month. After tiring of that liaison, and again becoming restless, Christy again visited Carolyn Treece, who by now had a new boyfriend. He was reporting to the Army in two days and offered Christy, not only the use of a cabin he had in the woods, but also the use of Carolyn. After moving into the cabin, Christy got himself a job as a trainee butcher. 'I had my own chopping block, was learning a trade; again a good future was laid out before me but again I wanted no part of it.'

After quitting his budding career as a butcher, Christy headed west for Wheeling, West Virginia, 'anxious to, right away, put a few hundred miles between myself and my old life.' After spending a night in Wheeling, one of his first tramping destinations at the age of twelve, Christy hitchhiked onwards to Du Quoin in southern Illinois, arriving there late at night and sleeping in the back of a closed down service station.

     'The next morning Val Santee and one of his brothers came and found me drinking coffee over a campfire with an old tramp. He’d been dossed down less than a hundred yards from where I’d slept on the ground. He told me he walked all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and made sure to read the local newspapers wherever he was. “Just find a newspaper in a trash barrel, sit down somewhere and study the place I’m at.” ' (SG)

Val was with his twin brothers, Louis and Lewis, though Christy admits that he never had the
 slightest notion as to which was which. One of them suggested they, “go and see Fats.” Fats turned out to be the real Minnesota Fats (Rudolph Wanderone, pictured right) played by Jackie Gleason in The Hustler, alongside Paul Newman. Christy had not realised that there was a real Minnesota Fats, and they headed out to a local roadhouse to watch him play pool, listen to his yarns, and discover that his real hustle was at cards.

    'So there I was with my great buddy Val Santee driving through the southern Illinois scrubland to his hometown of East Hamburg that had already taken on a mythic quality in my mind. When we were on our own, the first thing Val did was bring me to see the Chicago-St. Louis bus come in. There was the man with the rifle, keeping blacks from getting off. “No niggers allowed within the city limits!” he announced to one man who didn’t know enough not to try and alight.
    “Man, I need a drink of water.”
    “You can’t get you no water in East Hamburg, boy.”
    I refrained from reminding Val of the day in South Carolina when he called me down for not arguing with the gun-toting service station owner.    
    Val’s father looked like a movie Indian. It took a few days for him to warm up to me though. Seems he thought I might be a homosexual who’d taken a fancy to his son. The old man, Val. Sr. grew up in the hills to the south. His grandmother had been part of the Trail of Tears march of Cherokees from North Carolina to Oklahoma. When she got sick on the trail, she just lay there as the rest kept trudging west.' (SG)

Val and Christy spent the next two weeks floating down the Little Wabash, Wabash, Ohio, and Missouri rivers in a seventeen-foot long freighter canoe, until they hit the confluence with the Mississippi where 'floating' was no longer possible. They slept mainly on the river banks, but one day they spotted a lineman's hut and were contemplating sleeping in it when the owner happened by and gave them permission to use it. The owner was the actress Jocelyn Brando, Marlon's older sister. When the river tramp was done, Val phoned another of his brothers, Earl, who'd served time for armed robbery, to drive the pair back to East Hamburg. From there Christy continued on alone, Val making excuses about not being able to go along, that Christy suspected was to do with him missing his wife and hoping she would take him back. In a few weeks, Christy himself would be married.

Mexican Wedding

On his arrival in Kansas City, Christy got a job in a cafe for a week before moving on again. As he ran over to a Cadillac that had just pulled over to give him a lift, another car pulled right up to him. Christy apologised saying that he had already been offered a lift in the first car, and on asking the driver if he knew the guys in the second car, he got the reply, “Yeah, they’re my body guards.” After being dropped off, Christy was offered a construction job that lasted ten days, and with the job over and money in his pocket, Christy got back on the highway. Within an hour, he spied the speck of a small car making its way towards him across the prairie from the direction of Fort Smith Air Force Base.

1960's Triumph Roadster
     'I studied it for something to do. As it got closer the speck turned into a Triumph roadster, British racing green in colour. There was a young woman driving. She reached the intersection, started to pull onto the highway, saw me, and backed up. “You want a ride?” ... She was wearing sunglasses and had dark thick curly hair, her features were strong, distinct, or so it seemed from what I could see of her face, the bottom of the sunglasses seeming to perch on high-cheek bones. The fingers on the leather-encased steering wheel were long and slender, the nails long ovals covered with a clear gloss. All that I noticed as I climbed in.' (SH)

When the woman asked Christy where he was headed, he said California. When they got to the intersection where she was turning south and Christy was to get out, as he reached to open the car door she asked him of he'd ever been to Mexico, that she had a small house on the border, and would he like to be shown around. Well, not having anything particular planned, why would any young vagabond refuse such an offer. The two had not been able to engage in conversation due to the noise of the wind in the open top car. But on arrival at their first break at a truck stop, they introduce each other. Linda was aged 26, Christy a month short of his 20th birthday. They got further acquainted at the next stop where they shared a motel room. 

     'There was sadness at the edge of everything she said or did. I was aware for the first time in my life, of being with a woman and not a girl, I really do mean “beings with” rather than having sex with.' (SG)

Linda's story was that she had been visiting her boyfriend who was an officer at the Air Force Base. They had grown up together in a small Texas town and got engaged to be married, even though, as she admitted, she never loved him and would never love him. She had never had any say about her life, everything being decided for her between his parents and her mother. Linda's father, who was divorced from her mother, had advised her to run away, but she had nowhere to run away to:

     ' “It’s like I’m playing a part in a play that somebody wrote for me. I never said anything because somehow I wasn’t entirely aware of what was going on. Maybe it’s the same way for him but I don’t care about that. For the first time, I want to put my own happiness first." ... It took us three or four more days to get to Brownsville on the Rio Grande, at the far southeastern edge of the state. We’d take side roads and have picnics, make love in fields in the sunshine, in fields at night. At the very beginning, I assumed I was a diversion, something to take her mind off her problems with her boyfriend and to fill the last days of her vacation from work.' (SG)'

After showing Christy her 'cute pale yellow house', the pair strolled over the International Bridge and into the Mexican town of Matamoros:

'The bridge really did transport us into another world. Mexico seemed to exist on a different plane. A more interesting one, I thought. There was more colour and noise, and the food was better. We roamed around crowed streets, ate tacos and chimichanga, drank Bohemia beer and shots of mescal. Linda got a kick out of watching me be so excited about everything. ... A teenaged guy asked us if we wanted to get married. Before I could figure that out—was it a euphemism for someplace to go for sex ... I heard Linda say, “Yes. Yes. We do.” ' (SG)

And that is how, in May of 1965, Christy got married, was led down some alleys, into a pink-coloured house on the other side of a cement wall, and married by an overweight priest who bore a resemblance to Anthony Quinn. Twenty minutes later they were man and wife, but not before attending a reception in their honour attended by relatives of the priest and his wife, and anyone else who happened to be passing. 'Everyone treated us wonderfully. Somehow we got back to Brownsville and I woke up several hours later, for the first time in the bedroom of the yellow house.'

Christy was passionately in love with his new wife, and she he. When she had to be at work by nine, Christy wandered around town, frequently stopping at a coffee shop across the street from where Linda worked, staring across at the second floor window of her office, 'Thinking she was somewhere just beyond the glass through which I couldn’t see.' But Matamoras had its own allure, and Christy soon became such a frequent visitor that the border guards at both ends of the bridge would just give him a nod or a wave when he passed.

’47 Dodge sedan
One day, Christy encountered the brother of the priest who had married him in a cantina. Raoul was a local gangster and invited Christy to visit his establishment. 'a very tastefully appointed brothel.'  Before long, Christy was displaying the entrepreneurial skills he had learned as a kid in Philadelphia. He would pick up a carload of rich college kids in Brownsville, drive them to Raoul's establishment across the border (in a ’47 Dodge sedan provided by Raoul), and be given a share of the takings: “It’s twenty bucks for the usual but twenty-five for gringos. For every gringo you deliver, you make five dollars." We are not told what the girls made.

Whatever Christy got up to in the day, he was always back by 5.30 to pick Linda up from work. Sometimes Christy would cook, sometimes they would eat out at a restaurant or barbecue place on the beach. But this idyllic life was shortly to come to a sorry end. Linda's mother was scandalised when she heard that her daughter was sharing her house with a young drifter. Even questioning the legitimacy of the marriage. 

     ' “Linda, what have you turned into? You act like a whore picking up trash from along the road. ... How could you do this! What about Harley? You were engaged to him. A fine man, Harley. ... You’ve gone and ruined your life. For what? Tell me what? For that? That piece of trash? He’s hardly more than a juvenile delinquent. It makes me want to throw up to think of you giving yourself to him." ... Linda was distraught and that night cried herself to sleep in my arms.' (SG)

A couple of days later, Christy was accosted in the street by Linda's 30 year old brother, who warned Christy to stay away from his sister and then got physical with him. The outcome was that Christy laid the guy out. Then a younger, tougher brother was dispatched, but with similar results. The site of her second brother on the ground with a broken nose and split eyebrow, covered in blood, made Linda start reappraising her loyalties. And even though they made a visit to Linda's father, who was completely accepting of his new son-in-law, and warned Linda that she could end up miserable for the rest of her life if she followed her mother and brother's wishes, Christy soon realised that things had changed. Linda cried a lot and became sad and withdrawn. She did not want to get married to the air-force officer, did not want to live the kind of life that her mother had carved out for her, but she also found it impossible to go against her. Then one night she asked Christy to go with her to the beach, and after having dinner on a blanket on the sands, Linda started crying as they later walked along the beach. Christy said "Okay, let me have it."

     'Linda said that she had to go against her father’s advice, had to go against her own wishes and her instincts, and bow to her mother’s pressure as well as the imprecations of her intended. He was going to forgive her, and have a lawyer annul our marriage if, in fact, it even existed in the eyes of Texas.' (SG)

As absurd as the circumstances of Christy's wedding may at first appear, he had developed a deep bond with Linda and would never forgot her. The next day, a dejected Christy was boarding a bus without the slightest idea where he was heading, randomly buying a ticket to Beaumont, Texas. And it was in Beaumont that another important event was about to unfold in Christy's life.

Floyd Wallace and other Hobos

It was late afternoon on a Friday in the summer of 1965 when Christy, just turned twenty, stepped down from the bus in downtown Beaumont. Through the bustle of people rushing home from work, Christy glanced up and across the hood of a truck:

     'what I noticed was a man in an Hawaiian shirt, long grey blond hair nearly to his shoulders, who was leaning against a brick wall smoking a black stogie. His chino pants were baggy, shoes of woven strands of soft leather' (BM 237)

     'this man had the most incredible face I’d ever seen. It was as if a sculptor had been commissioned to make the head of a Hollywood leading man but said to hell with it, and sabotaged his creation, going surrealist on his simple straight-forward head. ... He had a cloth bag much like mine, the kind that used to be called a gym bag. Between the straps was a rolled blanket. He set the bag down by the curb, lit the stogie, and looked right over at me as if he knew I was watching him. “His face,” as Melville said of Queequeg, “was a crucifixion to behold.”
     The man levelled his gaze on me and waited for whatever I had in mind.' (SG)

     'I knew he was a drifter because the rolled up cardboard was his bed, his face was darker than any other white man, and his clothes had that indescribable hobo cut built in. But as he shifted his weight pulled at the butt and looked around I sensed something different in him, a presence of some kind, and I knew I had to meet him.' ('Bo', in Outlaws, Friis-Baastad Erling, (editor), Alive Press Limited,1974, p. 16)*

*The last quote is from a separate account of Christy's adventures with Floyd Wallace, ' 'Bo ', from the anthology Outlaws. This book includes writing by two other close friends and influences on Christy, Charlie Leeds (see Part 3) and Marcel Horne (see Part 4). 

As we are informed in these three separate accounts, this was the manner in which Christy first met Floyd Wallace, his soon-to-be hobo mentor. Floyd's monicker was the Greeley Kid, so named after the Colorado town where he'd been raised. The older vagabond had just stepped off a sailboat at Port Arthur, after shipping out of Liverpool, over to South America, up the Atlantic coast through the Caribbean to Tampa, New Orleans and then across the gulf to Port Arthur. Although arriving with a friend he'd met in New Orleans, with the intention of hanging out around the waterfront, Floyd had come up to Beaumont to visit the widow of a close friend whom he'd just been informed had died of a heart attack. 

After striking up an instant friendship, Christy and Wallace took up rooms in the boarding house run by the widow of Wallace's friend, he in turn introduced them to someone who needed help on a construction job. As it turned out, Wallace had friends just about wherever he went, and when two weeks later the work was over, the pair lit out from Beaumont together in the caboose of a freight train headed north, courtesy of railroad employees who knew him well: 

     'The trainmen not only treated Floyd with the utmost respect, but they seemed to defer to him as well. [...] We had enough money to fly out of there first class but that would have violated the principle of the enterprise, and we never would have met those great trainmen' (BM 238)

After switching trains in Dallas and Oklahoma City, the pair arrived in Tulsa where they visited another friend of Wallace, Sam Spry. Christy does not hide his fascination when Spry answers the door, minus his legs and suspended by his arms from brass rails: 'I couldn't help be remindedof a orangutan but in place of jungle lianas, elevated rails led through the living room to the kitchen with tracks branching of to bedroom and bathroom.' When Spry asked Christy, "What the hell are you looking at? ... Something peculiar about me?", Christy with his usual forthrightness declares, 'Damn right there is ... your not what usually opens the door.' Instantly endearing the young to the old vagabond, who bursts out laughing.

Over twelve hours around the kitchen table, and some serious drinking, the two older hobos reminisced over their early tramping experiences and of two years fighting in the Spanish Civil War; naturallybecause of their socialist and Wobbly leaningson the Republican side:

     'Their conversation ranged over jobs of work and old radical heroes, time on picket lines, battles with yard bulls, scissorbills, cops and management thugs. They freely divested themselves of political opinions ... [and] weren't guys who'd put off having a good time until after the revolution. Their reminiscences, therefore, included bust ups and jackpots and uproarious nights with often a good deal of female companionship. Not that either of them bragged or even became graphic; no, it was all said in a sort of joyful reference.
     These were guys who had lived. They'd grabbed life, embraced it, wrung its neck, kissed and fondled it, kicked it in the keister and held on tight. They'd taken some shots in return but didn't seem to hold any grudges.' (BM 242-243)

Christy lists some of these Spanish Civil War adventures in Between the Meridians, before asking Floyd the obvious question as they eventually depart Sam's bungalow, "I guess he stepped on a mine or something like that, huh? Over in Spain." But Floyd replied that Sam Spry had not lost his legs in that or any other war zone. Paradoxically for a hobohundreds of whom lost limbs beating trains illegallyit was during a brief spell working for a railroad company that Sam lost his legs. Due to the carelessness of a fellow railroad employee while Sam was attending to the coupling between two boxcars, the train backed up prematurely: 'Sam tried to leap free but he leaped too late.' And from Shift & Glitter:

    ' No. Old Sam made it through the whole sorry mess without so much as a scratch. People used to want to stand or maybe I should say kneel next to him during battles for good luck. He comes back to Oklahoma and makes the mistake of begging for his old brakemans job back. I say, begging because he had a reputation as being a Red. Hell, anyone of us who were over there was called a Red. Well, sir, they give him the job back and hes not there two weeks before he gets knocked down and a freight car rolls over him, severs his legs. '(SG)

After Tulsa, the pair headed for Denver where Floyd made some phone calls to find out that the woman he was looking for was singing at a roadhouse out of town. Having realised that Christy was in a bad way after having to leave Linda behind in Brownsville, Wallace sought to distract his new friend with some female companionship. After sprucing themselves up in the shower of a local YMCA, the pair headed out to a country and western venue where Wallace's friend Mae was performing. In spite of the attention that Mae's younger friend was getting on the dance floor, it was Christy who left the place in her company under the hostile stares from the local cowboys.

     'We stayed around the area for a few days, went to hear Mae sing again and one sunny afternoon had a picnic in the high foothills of the Rockies. Then Floyd wanted to pay a visit to his hometown of Greeley. While he was gone, I thumbed a ride to Colorado Springs, holed up in a cheap hotel for a couple of days and wandered around. Later, Floyd and I met up in Denver, found a freight and headed east. We had a fast run to Omaha and made it up to Sioux City with little trouble.' (SG)

From Sioux City the pair beat it in a Great Northern boxcar for the town of Britt in the north of Iowa. The annual National Hobo Convention that originated in Chicago in the late 1890s was permanently relocated to Britt in 1900. In August 1965, when Christy first visited Britt with Floyd Wallace, there were still some genuine hobos to be found among the tourists and the curious drawn to visit: 

     'When we dropped down [from the train] by an abandoned water tower, I was fancying myself quite the hobo but that delusion lasted about five minutes. There were men in Britt that year that had been riding side-door pullmans for over fifty years. In the days when theyd started out, many of the old-timers they encountered were the original American hoboes, men whod had no place to return to after the Civil War and just kept moving. There was an actual election of a hobo king, and a parade and street, fair as well as a variety show at the high school auditorium but mostly, the convention consisted, as it always had, of hoboes sitting around fires swapping yarns.' (SG)

In 'End of the Road' (BM 54-60), Christy describes returning to Britt years later, only to discover that it had become a tourist sideshow organised by the local Chamber of Commerce, with few real hobos remaining, and those that did attend getting moved on by the police as soon as the tourists and their money had left. The Britt Hobo Convention continues to this day, with hobo 'craft', music, etc., for sale all the year round in the Britt Hobo Museum on the purchase of a $3 admission fee. The museum was opened in the former Chief Theatre in 1980, a sad commercial parody of a once proud and long since vanished hobo institution. But we are still back in 1965, and after spending a few days meeting some of the real old timers in Britt, Christy and Floyd set of for Kansas City where they had arranged to meet up with some of the other hobos:

     'There was a camp between an embankment and some spur lines in K.C. Again Floyd knew a dozen people there and one of them was an old man called Pop Stewart. There was a crowd of bos around him, his own retinue; he was a little fellow with long white hair and a white beard. When he saw Floyd, he recapitulated what him and the others were discussing. To be brief, Greeley. To be brief, I have the rheumatism pretty bad and Im afraid I cant be hotfooting it around the country no more. So Im gonna have to buy me an automobile. '

Pop had to explain that he was not planning to actually drive the car. No. With the help of the assembled hobos, Christy included, he went to a local used car lot, bought a 1930s four-door Nash sedan for seventy-five dollars, had it pushed back across the highway, and let it roll down the hill, declaring, "Where it stops is where Ill make my home.

'30s Nash Sedan
'When it stopped, and Pop was convinced it wasnt going to start up again, he began to clean the thing with a whiskbroom. He opened the winged hood and the trunk lid and all the doors, and tried the windows. He spread his bedroll in the backseat and stored some gear in the trunk.
     After dinner, a side of pork roasted on wood scrounged from around the camp, with carrots and potatoes simmered in a drum with onions, I went into town and got arrested. By the time, I got back three days later, Pop had fixed himself a cute little retirement home. Hed washed the Nash, and made a fence around it with branches and different lengths of metal pipe and a couple of golf clubs. Hed made shelves in the trunk and arranged knickknacks on the dashboard.' (SG)

Eventually, having had his fill of the road stories of others, Christy says that he wanted to experience some excitement of his ownas though he had not already had more than most people experience in a lifetime. He decided to first make a pilgrimage to Twelfth Street and Vine, famous in the song `Kansas City', and with a particular significance for Christy, being based, as it was, on sections of the Charlie Parker's composition, `Parkers Mood. But Christy's arrival at Twelfth Street and Vine did not live up to anticipation:

     'There was nothing but run down wooden buildings, stores with signs that hung by broken chains over the pavement and dilapidated houses on weed lots. I was standing there like an idiot in a trance, when the cruiser pulled over and two guys got out, one black, one white, and shouted at me. They asked me what I was doing there and I made the mistake of telling them the truth. What I got for my honesty was handcuffed, taken to jail and booked for disturbing the peace.' (SG)

Here I relate the story Christy tells of one of the other inmates, for no other reason than the absurdly comedic image it creates—although clearly not for the victim. In the next cell to Christy was a Mexican on a rape charge:

     'He was fixated on 1947 Buick convertibles, and not just any kind, but pale yellow ones. I mean, he was sexually fixated on them. He told me that when he was ten years old he had seen a colour photograph of a white woman sitting on the left front fender of a yellow `47 Buick convertible, and had an orgasm.
     “Jesus, Cheem. I saw the picture and immediately I embarrass myself. I swear to you I never touched myself. I didn’t have time to do that. One look and BAM!”
     Ever after that he had been aroused by pictures of the same kind of vehicle, even without a girl on the fender. He collected magazine photos of them and had a few years earlier bought a book about Buicks with colour photographs. ... He otherwise lead a normal even happy life ... and a girlfriend who’d promised to marry him. ... Just a few weeks earlier, he’d been walking home from work, taking his usual route, and there in the parking lot he always crossed was the car of his dreams. He’d never seen a real one.      
     Unfortunately, just as he turned out of the alley and saw the car, he also saw the woman.    
     “Cheem, she was viente, triente feet from the car and I was getting stiff and I spoke the words in my head, `No, lady, no. Don’t let that be your car.’”
     But it was her car and she was a rich woman. The Mexican was passing by just a few feet from the car when the woman opened the door and got behind the wheel, the skirt rising up her stocking legs.
     “I try to close my eyes but I can not!”
      He pushed her down onto the seat and had his way with her.
     “I swear to you by my mother that I could not have done otherwise. I had no control of myself. I rape her. It is terrible. But I never hit her or hurt her except to push her over. It was over in two, three seconds.” ' (SG)



Christy's had been sentenced to one week, but on the third day Floyd Wallace, in the company of a six-foot-six Indian by the name of Flow Bear (Christy notes that he was relieved the name was not spelt 'Flaubert'), who 'looked like the man you’d pick to play the baddest Indian in the movie.' Floyd had gone looking for Christy and when he found out where he was, the hobos stumped up the bail money. That night Christy, Floyd and Flow Bear, crossed the Missouri River to attend a party of whites and Indians at a Kansas farmhouse. The next day was the last time Christy would ever see Floyd, and the first time that he became fully aware of the significance of the draft:

    'The day before, Floyd had told me he was headed up to Canada, and that day was the first time Canada or the idea of Canada, ever entered my head in any personal way. 
    “You want to travel up there with me?”
    “Naw. I mean I’d like to but I have to get to California. It seems like I’ve been trying to get there forever.”
    “Okay, but you go to Canada now, you’ll beat the rush.”
    “What’re you talking about?”
    “This war in Vietnam; they’re going to start drafting guys like you. And, believe it or not, Canada will let guys in who don’t want to go into the U.S. Army and they won’t send them back.”
    “You’re kidding.”
    “No, I’m not. I’ve been reading about it. You believe in what’s going on over there in that far away country?”
    “No, I do not.”
    “Well not believing in it, are you going to take part in the War? Go into the Army?”
    “I’m not going into the Army. I know that.”
    “How you going to avoid it?”
    “Now that I don’t know.” ' (SG)

And from 'Bo (Outlaws 1974: 25) we have more insight into Floyd Wallace's philosophy and the influence he had on Christy's later decision to flee to Canada to avoid the draft:

     "Theys the rich and the poor and the former use the later to do their shit work. If sex was work  they'd have the poor doing it for them. Then there's another class like you and me who are outsiders. We may not never get much much in the way of material goodies but we live free. I never took much shit when I was a kid and since 1942 I haven't taken any shit at all. No sir! I hope you don't take any shit either. Now this Vietnam is shit, see. Don't take it. They want all you kids to go over and fight communism and defend democracy, apple pie, and the emurican way. My ass! I've been to Saigon four times. I know that country. They want you to defend rice and rubber is all. Probably heroin. Democracy. Shee-it.! Now I ask you if they wanted to fight communism why would they go 10,000 miles over to Asia when all they got to do is fight it on Cuba which is only about 75 miles from Florida? No sir, it's shit don't take it. Don't dish any out either. That's what I'm preaching. That's the song I'm singing. Thems my politics and my philosophy."

California

Mars Hotel in 1963
And so, for the first time since Linda had rerouted his trip to California on the Oklahoma highway, Christy set out once more for the Golden State, heading south to avoid Denver and then crossing over into New Mexico and Santa Fe, hitching west on Route 66, before 'arriving one night in riot-scarred south central Los Angeles.' The following day Christy hopped a freight to San Francisco and immediately on his arrival, met up with a woman named Emerald with Indian heritage (Asian not Native American). She claimed to be able to 'see things' in people's eyes: “Something like lust but not really lust. That and something more, something complete.” Well, whatever it was that Emerald saw in Christy's eyes, they spent eight days together enjoying the sites of San Francisco and enjoying each other. The highlights of this particular excursion was the City Lights bookstore, publisher and seller of many of Christy's literary heroes. Then a visit to Emerald's Uncle Singh's establishment, the Mars Hotel at 4th and Howard, featured on the opening page of Kerouac's Big Sur as the 'skid row hotel' where Kerouac arranges to meet his friend for a secret return to San Francisco before spending some quiet time in his friend's cabin in the woods. Instead, Kerouac makes a public and noisy drunken entrance to that city where his friend finds him lying on the floor of his room at the Mars among empty bottles and leaves him to complete whatever debauchery he'd has started. Presumably, because of the iconic image of the hotel already made famous by Kerouac, the Mars features in the 1972 David Bowie video for Jean Genie, as well as the 1974 Grateful Dead album cover, From the Mars Hotel. At any rate, Uncle Singh obligingly let Christy tear out the page from the registration ledger dated 1960, where Jack Kerouac had signed himself into the Mars, 'To me it was like coming upon a holy relic'.

Then one day Emerald told Christy that she had to go to Fresno for a couple of days. The police apparently used Emerald from time to time for her psychic powers, "I used to find puppies and toys for the other kids when I was little. A couple of years ago I found a little boy who had been missing for three years. He was in a house with a family of hillbillies in Bakersfield.” An eight-year old Phillipino girl had gone missing from her neighbourhood and police and neighbours had asked Emerald for help. Christy never saw her again, in spite of hanging around San Francisco for several weeks more. After meeting a guy at City Lights bookstore who was looking to share his two bedroom apartment, Christy got himself a couple of jobs. First as a Wells Fargo messenger boy (without the pony), then making sandwiches in a tavern: 'I wore a white smock and apron and chef’s hat, and had my own station, surrounded by hams and roasts of beef.'

Sailor Tramp

While still in San Francisco, around August of 1965, Christy got the urge to make a sea voyage; only to realise that getting onboard an ocean going vessel was not going to be easy. Apart from the chain link fences and security guards, there were impediments to getting legitimate work onboard because of unionised labour, etc. But with the help of a fella who knew a fella, Christy managed to ship out on a non-union sugar boat with a non-union crew for Honolulu:

     'It was probably a wreck, a mess, a bucket of bolts and a tub of rust but I didn't notice any of that or not much of it because it was a ship, my first ship. [...] I worked in the galley and I put in my time slopping grey paint over the old hulk, painting over the rust. I liked the effect of the grey over bubbles and pits. There were no fights, nobody with a wooden leg or a parrot, no Queequog and the Chief Stewart didn't try to bugger me. I didn't earn any money, either, at least not on board. The deal was that you worked your passage.' (JP 149-151)

The ship docked after five nights at sea and Christy did manage to earn some money with the unloading, enough to hit the bars of Honolulu, swap yarns with some old sea dogs, and get wasted. He also hitched up with an old school friend from Brookdale who, after graduation, had moved to Hawaii with her parents. Jane drove Christy around the sights of Honolulu in her '53 Dodge convertible. The full story of Christy's Honolulu adventure, and an unexpected consequence, can be read in 'Sugar Boat', Jackpots (2012).

Francis (Frank) Marie

Soon after his return to San Francisco, Christy attended his first anti Vietnam War demo in which several hundred protesters attempted to stop the trains transporting soldiers to the docks to board ships bound for Vietnam. But the demo was a flop, as most of the demonstrators were unwilling to face down a small group of Hell's Angels guarding the track and throwing the usual, 'pinko, homo, commie' taunts at the demonstrators:

     'There were probably some pacifists among the protestors, too. But not that many. Most of them were simply afraid. If not physical cowards—which is nothing to be contemptuous of—they were certainly moral cowards, unwilling to embody or inhabit what they insisted were their beliefs. After that I was ready to head east. I was fed up with these people, a type that I hadn’t encountered before. They may have resembled beatniks but they were soft and bland, and knew nothing of the world.' (SG)

Christy contrasts these 'suburban college kids and professors who ruffled their hair for a weekend in town', with the more street wise beats he had spent time with while still in high school and the last of the real beatniks he had encountered in New York's Greenwich Village. Bored with the whole thing, Christy resolved to tramp back to Philadelphia, but was by this time experiencing some dread at the thought of being drafted and sent to Vietnam, well aware that he was registered 1-A with the draft board. On arriving one night freezing cold and hungry in in a desolate Truckee, and finding nowhere open for food or warmth, Christy headed towards a light in a coach in the train yards and pounded with the side of his hand, his knuckles being numb with cold:

    'The door opened with a blast of oily warmth and I was looking at a stout old-timer in overalls and a matching cap.
    “Excuse me, but would you let me come in for a minute? Just long enough to get warm and then I'll be on my way.”
     The railroader eyed me up and down and removed the corncob pipe, the yellow plastic stem all wet and chewed up.
     "Yeah, it's cold out there. Got company rules though." ...
     "Thanks, sir," I said stepping over the threshold. "You're not the shack are you?"
     There was that laugh again. "No. I'm not the shack and I'm not a sir, either."
     "What?" I thought maybe he was telling me not to be so formal.
     "I mean I'm a she and not a he." (TL 67-68)

This is how Christy became acquainted with Frank (TL 67-85 and SG), 'the railroad lady who had spent her working life as a man' (EM). This was now Frank's permanent home, all fitted out with a cot to sleep in, 'a lantern hanging from the ceiling, a pair of seats from a passenger car, a station master’s roll top desk, a footlocker, green shades on the windows, railroad magazines stacked by the desk, cupboards and shelves stocked with tools and gear. Nothing to indicate the inhabitant was a woman.' (SG)

Frances Marie (now Frank) had come from New Mexico aged fourteen years when her parents’ ranch went bust. Her mother took Frank to California to stay with an older sister. “Big old country girl me, gallumphing in there carrying our two suitcases, my little old mother by my side. I felt like Frankenstein’s monster." Frances Marie told Christy that she went with her mother to San Bernardino, got a job, and even a couple of dates with men, “They sure must have been hard up”. After graduating high school, and a brief obsession with waitresses in uniform, she decided life would be easier as a man. So Frances Marie cut her hair, wore men's clothing, and became Frank. What's more Frank worked as a man, and took on all the railroad jobs open to men, including the tough work of stoking engine boilers.

She told Christy a story of how one day she had been drinking alone in an unfamiliar bar, and realised she was being discussed by a group of men. One finally announced in a loud voice, “Let’s go over there and damn well find out.”

     “We wrecked that place and I took my lumps but they never settled the question. Yeah, that was the last of the real old days. Sort of the final puff of smoke. I kept booming till 1959 and joined up steady with the Northern Pacific here. Just when morals started getting looser, the union rules got tighter and made the booming life [itinerant railroad work] history. I’m the yard watchman here now.”  (SG).

*Frances Marie's story is published in Travelin Light as 'Boomer'

More Jail Time

Christy crashed the night in Frank's caboose and was woken to coffee and a five dollar bill wrapped in a note for the waitress of a local diner, whereupon he could breakfast before setting out for Reno. On his arrival in Reno Christy got himself a job as a line rider, delighted at getting the real thing on horseback, rather than its modern equivalent of fixing fences from the back of a motor cycle. But this idyllic existence was not to last as when the work finished Christy was once again at the mercy of local vagrancy laws. Christy describes how at the time, if you wanted to guarantee a bed for the night, you needed to sign in at the local mission hostels before noon. And being a big gambling town, there was as much call on the missions from 'tapped out gamblers' as there was from penniless drifters. And so one night, unable to get a bed in a hostel, Christy took a rest in the Reno bus station waiting room to plan his next move. After dozing off he got nudged in the side by a fellow vagrant warning him not to close his eyes if he wanted to avoid getting thrown in jail for vagrancy. He recognised the other guy's accent as also being from Philadelphia and they fell into swapping stories. Tony Amsterdam (Dutch) was a mobster from South Philadelphia who had driven down to Reno in a Cadillac, lost everything at the tables including his car, and was now waiting for money to get wired through to the Western Union office next door. Before leaving to pick up his money and head home, Dutch gave Christy his card and urged him to look him up when he was next in Philadelphia. More of Dutch later.

     'I was terribly sleepy. There were two choices: I could go outside and be nabbed right away or stay where I was and probably fall asleep and be nabbed on the next sweep. And that second thing is what happened.
     The guy whacked me on the shins with the stick, and led me to jail. I got in about three hours sleep before they woke me to give me bologna chunks, a slice of white bread and weak coffee with sugar. I went before the judge and got thirty days on The Ranch; from what I could gather, some sort of work place out in the desert.' (SG)

When Christy protested the harshness of the sentence just for dozing off in a bus station, the judge warned him to shut it or get another thirty days. The Ranch was so crowded that Christy had to spend the next six days in the city jail, not an entirely futile time as the sheriff’s wife prepared his meals and the sheriff’s daughter brought them to him. She was kind to Christy, chatted to him, and brought him some used paperback books to read which he paid for. After the six days Christy was shipped out to The Ranch, which resembled an old army base that had been converted to a prison camp. The boredom of the city jail was now replaced with having to be on red alert just to protect oneself from the guards and other prisoners:

     '... murderers, rapists, armed robbers, smash and grabbers, harmless nuts, drunks and vagrants—were all thrown together, divided only by race ... whites, blacks, and Hispanics, and the only solidarity was amongst the blacks. The Puerto Ricans hated the Mexicans, and the Mexicans hated the Central Americans and Columbians, and the Colombians hated everyone. One would have thought the Latins might have banded against the common enemy, the blacks, who hated them almost as much as they hated the whites. Ninety percent of the whites were stone redneck racist trash but when confronted by a black guy in for killing the white landlord who overcharged him for rent and always tried to cop a feel off his girlfriend, it did no good to declare you’d been busted in Selma, Alabama, or to state any other bona fides. You had to come out swinging or, rather, come in to camp swinging. First guy who promoted you, you had to attack; try reasoning, and you were due for misery.' (SG)

And Christy did have to come into camp swinging. A tall skinny black guy hit on him straight away, told Christy that he would be 'reaming' him by nightfall. When Christy looked straight past him, he added that he was glad Christy was scared because, "white meat’s better when it’s scared.” Whereupon Christy laid him out on the ground for the advantage of the assembled crowd, busting his jaw into the bargain. For the benefit of the other blacks, he made it clear that the whites were not his people either. Christy describes the subtle nuances of speech and gesture that allowed others to know where you were coming from. Even though it was impossible to breach racial lines for real friendship in such a place (Christy did succeed in befriending a Mexican gang boss before his time was up), it was possible to earn a kind of silent respect that kept you out of the worst kind of trouble. The work gangs were tough, but Christy also managed to talk one of the guards into letting him switch duties from handling the rolls of barbed wire to digging post holes; harder work but at least it was solitary.

Christy was let out after nine days (plus the six he did in the city jail) and used the money he'd been given for fencing to buy a bus ticket for Cheyenne. By the time he arrived he was broke again and forced, against his better judgement, to steal a loaf of bread, then set off tramping east in the cold October weather, freezing at nights: Lincoln, Omaha, Des Moines, and in Davenport Christy got busted again for vagrancy. This time, however, the desk sergeant was friendly and let Christy off early on the promise that he would do some work in the sergeant's mother's yard, 'putting the garden to bed for the winter.' With the money Christy had been given by the desk sergeant for this work, Christy bought a bus ticket to Chicago, not prepared to spend November nights out on the road. From there, on to Philadelphia, 'and four nights later, I was sleeping with Carolyn Trice in her parents’ king-sized bed.'

Christy also moved back into Carolyn's ex-boyfriend's cabin on Cobbs Creek that was still unoccupied. There he fought the notion that he had wasted the last year bumming around the country for no good reason. One day Christy stopped at his parents’ place in Brookdale to collect mail and his old troubles resumed:

Christy with his mother Kathleen
     'Where did you get that car? My mother demanded to know. I was driving Carolyn’s Caddy and I told them the truth, it belonged to my girl friend. — Is she your age? —Yes. —Well she must be a whore to have enough money for a car like that. —And so it went: I looked like a bum, I was wasting my life, my head was still filled with anti-American ideas, I was going to wind up a bum in the park. That last was one of my father’s favourite lines. I wanted to tell him that was one goal I’d already achieved. I got out of there as soon as I grabbed the mail and what clothes remained in my old chest of drawers in the room I had shared with my brother.' (SG)

Christy had become aware that full time students were exempt from the draft board and managed to re-register at West Chester College for his second term—regardless of having taken a year out hoboing, getting married, doing time, etc. He told them that he had matured since Dean Killinger had caught him in bed with the girl in his off-campus residence. His next visit was to the draft board to get his student deferment. Then, some weeks later, Val Santee turned up again and, the cabin being to small for the both of them, the pair got an apartment together and both got a job with the Horn and Hardart restaurant chain, Christy on the grill out front and Val in the restaurant. Later again, after having to get out of their apartment because the landlord had heard them playing Dylan albums and threatened to have them busted as communists, Val did another one of his disappearing acts and Christy started getting moved around the various central Philadelphia Horn and Hardart’s chains. We have by now left 1965 behind and are about to enter an entirely unexpected twist in Christy's adventures.

PROCEED TO PART 3


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