Tuesday, July 28, 2009
All I Wanted Was a Little Weed. A long vignette by Mark Durfee
The request was for vignettes, little nuggets off the vine, you know, sort of Reader's Digest Vignettes From Life. What came in was a crackejack of a short story, certainly a vignette from the tumultuous life of Mark C. Durfee, It would never make the Reader's Digest, of course, as Jack Kerouac could not make the Reader's Digest or the stuffy American magazines of his time with "On the Road". But what a tale was Kerouac's and what a story we have now with Island Grove Press from Mark Durfee.
As proprietor, I was first hesitant to publish much of Mark's work, for I, along with others thought his poetry, though powerful, was a little spotty, impressionistic, not yet mature. But that was my (and my editorial board's) opinion of his earlier work..
I had no idea that he would, in his own Detroit way, out-Kipple a Kipling, and fuck you.
So Island Grove Press is proud to run a story which is in not only in a Kerouac tradition, but certaihly Hunter S. Thompson way, and one which we feel proud to publish.
ALL I WANTED WAS A LITTLE WEED
I had been on the road for almost two years. How I got there is another tale for another time but suffice it to say that after two years I knew how to live outside. I was not just a hobo . Although there were elements of that. Neither was I a bum, because I would work when the feeling hit or I needed some change for tobacco.
Although I was not adverse to a handout, especially, since hand gestures seemed my major means of transportation, people not at first put off by the way I looked when they picked me up in the first place, would sometimes help with a little offering when they sensed my other hand being out.
And the walking was good and I did my fair share of that, but standing with my thumb out, contemplating whatever was before my minds eye was better. I learned a lot this way.
I learned that every "body" who needed help driving or someone to talk to or just a face to relieve the boredom of the highway, would now have a companion. Everybody had a story to tell and with a stranger the honesty flows freer. Here today dropped off on the highway and cares and troubles too.
If you were going to be any good at hitchhiking you had to learn to talk to the person who was kind enough to pick you up. Even if you are a total psycho when you are by yourself you had to be human when with your lift.
No sense making them nervous or agitated. If for no other reason they’d never pick up another road dog. And that would be a minor crime in the community. There was a traveling community in this country in the 70’s. I imagine it existed long before I got there and probably exists in some form or another to this day. Yet in order to know it’s there you have to be a part of it, which is something I left behind twenty-plus years ago.
You might meet someone named pookie in Florida during the winter and then at the first hint of a thaw they just wouldn’t be around anymore. Then you’d stumble into Banff Alberta and there’d they be just in from Sacramento. There would be camps that simply appeared for a few days or a couple of weeks and then people would just drift off till the last one picked up the last piece of litter and left out too.
We were road dogs, a breed of our own. All of us had a home on our backs. Me, I had a 1600 cubic centimeter Jansport full frame pack. A tent and a down filled sleeping bag. Two years earlier I started out with a much rougher kit but like I said, you learn.. I carried 15 pairs of socks, two changes of clothes, toilet stuff and a weeks worth of dehydrated food .
Socks are the greatest commodity among the road dogs, and the homeless in your streets. If you want to be kind to a homeless person give them socks. Guaranteed to make them happy! Dry feet overcome a whole host of other uncomfortables
Anyway I had been on the road without a break for about a month, I was heading down I-75 when I saw a sign that said Raleigh Durham and I remembered I had a sister there last time I checked so I took a left at that sign and went to North Carolina. After a day or two of wandering around aimlessly in that college town I did come across her. I might have been able to find her sooner but it is hard to ask directions to a person and it took me that long to remember she was somebody’s wife so I had been looking for the wrong last name.
Eventually though we did connect and she offered me a bed and a shower, which I am pretty sure I needed, the shower anyway.
Now this is my waaay older sister. She was the first born of the tribe and I was the fourth. So she was somewhere around five years older than me. She was ok, but she inherited that lack of culinary skills my mother displayed all her life. I don’t know what it was about the women of the tribe, they could go out and earn large amounts of money, manage offices and a hundred people but nary could a one of them flip an egg. We were junk food junkies long before there was a societal bent towards it. Hell maybe we set that trend. I do believe that White Castle was able to do a major corporate expansion on the business our tribe did there.
So I arrived and was turned loose, hell no, not in the kitchen. I would have had to start a wood fire on her stove top to do the kind of cooking I was accustomed to. I mean I was turned loose to find my own amusement and restaurants to eat at. She worked, her old man worked and I didn’t feel comfortable in their apartment after so much time outside. Just to many white walls and dime store bric-a-brac.
So I did what came naturally, I went walking around her neighborhood to see what I could find. Hmmmmm A pool hall. That’s what the sign said and believing it I went inside to find…….pool tables, about thirty of them. Now I was no good at pool and never claimed other wise but if I didn’t keep my mind off the road I would start to get itchy feet and leave before it was polite.
Inside it was a mixture of shadow and cones of light over the tables, sunlight coming through the smoky haze, half murdered as it passed through the dirty windows. This was not a hang out for college kids and from the average length of the hair I saw it really wasn’t a place for me either. Yet the war was a year or two done, the protests were over and disco was starting to rear its ugly head. So I did what I usually did and asked the counter guy if he had a couple of hours worth of work he’d trade for some table time and maybe a meal and a beer. “where you from” was the way he answered. “Here, right now, but originally Detroit” well that was enough because he had “fambly” there and they was making a living so he figured he could spare “somtin” for me.
Where else do they start you but the toilets? I have seen worse shitters than that one but it did rank near the bottom. But what the hell you got to start somewhere right and I didn’t figure to be running the joint anytime soon so I worked at it for a couple hours and then he turned me loose with a four beer credit all the table time I wanted for that day and his endorsement to the locals that I was all right for a “girly lookin hippie”
Drinking my beers and moving balls around the felt. I was ok. I was occupied. I was about to find out the meaning of southern hospitality.
Two fellas approached me and asked if I’d play them a game or two. Seeing as I had the table for as long as I wanted and it wasn’t costing me anything more than I already invested, I said sure. Now these two guys appearance didn’t really put me off. They were what I would call back woods typical, Flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off, sunburned on every exposed surface. A bit on the grimy side, but what the hell I was only a day or two out of the shower myself. We understood each other completely. After 5 minutes we turned the talk to weed. Reefer, gange, smoke, toke and boo. None of us had any and all of us wouldn’t have minded some. I had learned in the navy that southern boys had been smoking the stuff for a hundred years. Ever since hemp had been a cash crop. So I was nonplussed.
We laid our cards on the table and they consisted of about 18 dollars. So off we went in search of reefer madness.
The car was a Ford wagon that was beat and crumpled looking but I had recently been in enough cars to know it was a sleeper. The guy put his time and cash into the parts you couldn’t see. This car was built for speed not for comfort. Once off the main highway is where this car excelled. The roads kept getting smaller and smaller and the numbers on the speedometer kept getting higher and higher until we were so far out in the North Carolina woods doing 60 miles an hour down a dirt deer run I was no longer sure if I was still in the state I started in.. The trees were such that they were scraping the roof as he bounced this car through every hole he could find. I was seriously impressed with his skill as a driver. This cat knew where every single hole was and he didn’t miss even one of them. So here’s the scene. Pitch dark, rolling like madmen down this two track dirt road in a ford, in search of marijuana. These fellas said they knew where to get some weed and by God they were going to hell and gone to get us there.
Then it appeared, a shack, not a house, not a double wide but a gray weather-beaten shack. Tin roof, hunting dog, on the porch, chicken leavings in the front yard shack. Old cars on blocks, old tires and appliances long dead strewn about property. It was a good thing I had not seen the movie Deliverance, because I might have made an offensive joke and that would not have been good. We were deeep in the woods here.
The driver and buddy left the car and SERIOUSLY TOLD me to wait in the car.
Sure enough the patch of light that filled the door as it opened was framing a man with a shotgun yelling “who’s that!” It turned out they were cousins (naturally) and after a few minutes of palaver, one of my companions returned to the car and said it was “cool….come on in”
I swear as I stepped on the porch I felt it sway, not as bad as a ship at sea but that whole shack swayed. Good thing I had lost weight on the road because I could just imagine a groan and a tumbling down if much more weight had been added to the structure.
I was led inside and introduced: After the once over and an instant judgment. The gun was set down by the door which was closed. Inside this place was no better than the outside, some tattered chairs with the stuffing coming out, papers all over the floor and a picnic table in the center of the front room. Then I saw it.
A huge monster of an oak cabinet; a cabinet worthy of any Newport cottage.
This cabinet was polished to a dull shine in the weak light. Spotless clean glass panels in the oak door. This cabinet sat to within 6 inches of the ceiling and was papered inside with Klan posters and a literal arsenal of guns and ninja stars; swords knives and more guns boxes of ammunition and even more guns.
Needless to say this one item was intentionally set up to be the focal point and make a statement at the same time. Click…….message received.
Don’t discuss politics or the civil war.
The transaction was done and a fair amount of smoke was procured. Like smokers everywhere we had to try it out right then and there, so we sat at the picnic table and proceeded to roll away. Now that job fell to me because most people can’t roll a joint to save their life, and I think I was being tested. I did have skill in this area though as I rolled my own cigarettes when on the road. It was natural to me, clean the sticks and seeds out, fold the bugler paper, roll, lick and light.
Oh yeah we were smoking now and to be honest it was good weed. The three fellas and I commingled the smoke of friendship. After a minute or two of absorbing the delirious toxins we were high. The kind owner of this homestead in the forest rose from the table leaving the room with a chuckle.
Laughing, he returned set the mason jar in front of me and implied that no Northerner could handle it. Well I am here to tell you that nobody could tell this sailor he couldn’t handle his booze. So he pours one out, down it goes. He did one our companions did one. He did another; I did another, my two friends declined.
He did yet another, with a look of challenge on his face, he set a full shot glass in front of me. Down it went. He did another………..then the gun cabinet appeared to move and the posters from the Klan loomed large in my sight, the light of the room was glinting off some metal in there. Then it occurred to me, that maybe the south should win this war. After all, all I wanted was a little weed.
Wow. Some "vignette". A little long, but this one certainly fills the bill.
More Vignettes are coming from Island Grove Press authors, including Donnetta Lee, E. A. Monroe, Ginger, and, hopefully, Jo.
Keep 'em coming!