Winter 1971 In January my family moved from New England to the Midwest. I began to paint in earnest, working up to 14 hours a day. This is my third finished and saved painting (below). My first such painting was sold to the owner of a notorious strip club called Horse Feathers for $200. My second was given to Hal Stowell and then hacked into nothingness by his girlfriend who didn’t like me much. I was 13 years old.
Summer 1972 Eric Murphy and I take a long bicycle trip to Michigan. We bolt large chrome baskets designed for the front on the back of our 10-speeds. I bring a massive cotton sleeping bag and a hatchet. Sideswiped by a garbage truck, I careen into a barbed wire fence. Two plumbers stop to administer first aid. I’m just annoyed that my pants have a major rip. We ride 130 miles in one day. I paint this over a three-month period based on a barn where I hang out (below). I was 15 years old and a junior in high school. Learning how to play pool, I purchase a pool table with money earned selling paintings. The barn painting sells for $700. The table is $650. My father will not loan me the little bit extra I need to buy a Brunswick Heritage. Kurt Link and I begin to make eastern-style zeppelin sandwiches and eat them on the only overlook for 50 miles, a manmade knoll, actually a bump of 40 feet. We invite poetic cute girls to join in this, as we see it, our sacred East Coast activity, Kurt also a transplant from the real world of New England and Pittsburgh.
Summer 1973 Eric Murphy and I hitchhike from the Midwest to the Maine coast and back. We stop in Belfast, Maine and look up Sam Appleton who ignores us. We stop in Gorham, New Hampshire where we are welcomed. We return through Canada and wait 17 hours for a ride walking the entire length—eastern outskirts to western outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario, the nickel capital of the world. It looks like the moon!
Fall 1973 Drive with my parents all through the Maritimes. They drop me off at the Rhode Island School of Design. After a week, I quit, receiving a full refund for my father. He immediately begins shopping for a Porsche.
Fall 1973 I get a job working in a frame shop, living at home. Paint this because I’m still spending time hanging out at the abandoned farm (below). I smoke my handmade corncobs on top of the silo as the sun goes down. I practice hopping boxcars in the freight yards. I sever my tendon practicing karate on the window panes of an abandoned house. Call my dad at work to drive me to the hospital since I’m in shock and bleeding copiously. He refuses, so I hitchhike, my arm in the air, my thumb out. The docs fish the tendon back and reattach; my middle finger is still shorter than the other. I make sure the cast allows me to play pool. My mother is partying in Europe again.
Winter 1974 I hitchhike to see Andrea, who I met my last evening at RISD. She kicks me out after one week. Hal Stowell finds me, and we extend the loft in his cabin. I live with Hal until spring, then hitchhike back to the Midwest in late March. Still pretty cold. I begin writing haiku and reading Basho.
She who stood before me naked;
“Isn’t my body perfect,”
She’d say and it was.
She in her last year of art school,
The girl I hitchhiked a thousand miles
To see when I was seventeen.
Before I left I had inspected my face,
I had a few issues, an uncertain complexion,
Maybe I should wait a month or two
Till my skin cleared;
She so doll-like and blemish-free
from upscale Chappaqua, New York.
I hitchhiked a thousand miles in winter
With my pool cue and my freight-riding sack
Packed inside with handmade gifts for her,
Things I had labored over.
“I wish you had a sports car,” she said.
While she was attending painting classes
I’d either be in the freight yard wandering,
Angling my complexion to the January sun,
Or in one of the two poolrooms.
(But how do you win a sports car on a pool table
In Providence, Rhode Island, in 1974?)
She the first to put the mouth to me
And she choked badly in my moment,
Thereafter eyeing it suspiciously.
She who kicked me out after a week,
After my meager money was gone and
The pool balls had stopped dropping.
How can a seventeen-year-old choke
When he is playing for the woman he loves?
She did—I did.
He heard I was around and wounded,
(I’d called his ex-wife looking for him)
And in a decrepit yellow ex-mail van
He found me and offered the Wendell woods,
A tiny cabin chained to a massive pine tree.
No well, a rusted-out wood stove, gas lamps,
The January wind keeping that chain taught.
My complexion cleared right up.
Over frozen rutted dirt roads, there
The lone pay phone at Lake Wyola,
The single light above it now,
A small shrine in darkness,
The frozen lake the wind had blown
to white waves in the moonlight,
Black Label pounders between our legs,
Oh, I had to call her,
Damn, I had to call her,
Just had to.
And after the miles of fierce dirt roads
And the coins pressed hard into the slot
And standing there shivering in the
Forever wind of our belief in salvation
And then me whispering her name when
Whispering it again with
All the humility and fear of what I felt.
And she said,
“I can’t talk now, I’m with someone.”
He gathered me up out of the snow,
I’d tripped somehow leaving the booth
And I looked out again over frozen Lake Wyola.
And I looked at him and I said,
I should have known
I should have known
Damn it, I should have known.
I should have known the second time too,
When I hitchhiked to see her again,
Though, at least, the distance was down
To two hundred miles.
The afternoon I left Wisconsin to hitchhike to Providence, Rhode Island at the beckoning of Andi (Andrea Shapiro, Andi Shapiro). Little does my face reflect the coming heartache a mere week later. But the future has that tendency, the tendency of remaning hidden, doesn’t it? Note the leather driving gloves waiting for a car. And my crazy clarinet that wouldn’t play. That because I wanted a saxophone. Rich Bruce would years later send me his as a gift. Still have it!
The paper bag contains the lunch my mother ALWAYS insisted on giving me to take along. I hated accepting the lunches, believing it upset the cool look I was trying so hard to achieve. Then, by evening, I was starved, and glad to eat one of her misshapen brown bread sandwiches evicting green peppers and lemon pips. I still have a severe pip phobia to this day after having bitten into so many as a youth.
Summer 1974 Kris Marsala arrives in the Midwest, and I take him on his first road run back to Watertown, New York across Lake Michigan and through Canada. We drive his 1963 Rambler Classic to visit Hal Stowell in the Massachusetts woods. I hitchhike back to the Midwest, leaving Kris at Hal’s. Hal later tells me: “I couldn’t get that guy to leave. All he did was sit around smoking pot all day, petting the cats.” I suppose the cats enjoyed it.
Again, I hitchhike from the Midwest east to Lincolnville, Maine, then out to Isleboro, then to Gorham where I watch my first James Dean movie on the old B&W TV, the White Mountain rain pounding the house. I’m there alone for the first time and the experience effects me enormously. Eating 31-cent chicken potpies, walking down the rickety wooden steps to shoot pool at Archies. One of the most poetic times in my life. I return to the Midwest.
I drive my mother in the 1967 Volvo back to the East, the car sells in Worcester (I rebuy the car a couple years later), I hitchhike back to the Midwest. My father pays for my plane flight to Manchester, New Hampshire, and we pick up his virtually new 1970 Porsche 911 Targa, the purchase of which is funded by my college refund and $1,400 that I loan him. We stop in Gorham, and have a wonderful time driving it to the Midwest, passing through Sudbury, Ontario yet again. This drive is maybe the most joyous time I’ve ever spent with my father.
Hal Stowell in his woods during the early 1970s. Hal was a fine poet in the 1970s, and his two books of poetry are prizes to be collected and read.
Hal during the printing of Yowdendrift in 1969, his first book of poems, only an edition of 13 copies. If anyone has one, I will buy it at any reasonable price. Well, double any reasonable price. Notice MM, so vulnerable and sweet, on the wall.
Hal Stowell and the 1967 Volvo during the 1970s as I was checking the tire pressures at Perry’s Service Station in Montpelier, Vermont, which is still there—even Bob Perry is still there!—and that I painted in 1978. We were on our way to Watertown, New York to visit Kris Marsala who received Hal very poorly although he had stayed at Hal’s way beyond his welcome.
2016 photograph of Perry’s Service Station Interior by Adam Walker.
Fall 1974 At 17 years old, I ride freights West for the first time. Months on the freights has a huge impact on me as I almost die three times—cold, hunger, and a severe concussion jumping incorrectly out of a fast moving train. When it gets too cold, I meet Eric Murphy and Peter Verbrick in Moran, Wyoming, getting a job washing dishes for a few weeks, then I hitchhike back to the Midwest. My hitchhiking has reached its zenith. I only work truck stops and receive incredible rides from long-haul truckers. I tell them I’m writing a book, and everything they do will be recorded. This puts them on their best behavior.
After just one day in the Midwest, I hitchhike to Watertown, Kris drives me to Providence, Rhode Island, where just a week after my December birthday, I buy a 1956 356 Porsche and head back to the Midwest for Christmas with my parents.
The author, in Vermont, attempting to channel James Dean, 1976