"These were women of refinement and urbane cachet. Some of them took cabs everywhere they went! The first one I engaged even had a doorman, who thought I was a hoodlum and hated my guts because no thirty-year-old man walks around jobless in a black leather jacket alla time."
After I met Mike Roddy the writer in the Ear Inn we didn't really hang together much until Leah divorced him in the 80s, though before they divorced I did go to their loft and I met and became very close to Mike's best friend, a welder and sculptor, a guy who became a really close friend to me, too, whether he realized it or not for a while--until against my warnings, he got married and moved away and almost changed his life for the worst--he's now divorced and living as a mountain-man-college-instructor-and-home-appraisal-expert out in the lower Rockies in New Mexico. Plus I became rather fascinated with Mrs. Roddy. I even got to secretly lusting after her; she was like a shadow person around the loft--you know, I'd catch a glimpse of her whisking by here and there along and throughout the intricacies of their huge loft--I remember their front window looked out and across the street right into a porno film studio--Mike and Leah used to lay in bed and watch all these fuck movies being made--and Mike was also into music--he played the guitar--he had a keyboard and he had a four-track tape recorder (ancient technology now but the cat's meow back in the coming-to-an-end 1970s), so he got to inviting me over to his loft and we just played. I had taken up playing the harmonica again after a 5-year layoff and Mike wanted to form a duo with me playing keyboards and rack harmonica and him playing guitar and singing. Hanging with Mike was fun; we made music and talked art and Mike told me he was starting a novel and we talked writing and then we'd go into the main loft and Leah would bring out cheese, meats, beers, chips, and pizza, and I was still more fascinated with Leah than I was Mike and one day I picked up this music mag on their coffee table. Creem. "What the hell's this?" "That's a rock and roll magazine Leah reads out of Detroit; it's a counterculture competition to Rolling Stone who a lot of the Creem writers used to write for." "Shit. What'a you think of MC5 and John Sinclair and Mitch Ryder, all them Detroit cats?" "You ever been to Detroit?" Mike asked.
The first time I was in Detroit...OK, I start swimming back into some murkier waters of my past times, those times when I was in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, outside the town of Rollo, Missouri, which made me think of what Charles Ives the greatest-ever of American "Classical" composers--bar-none--called a Yahoo--"Rollo! Rollo!" he used to shout at dilettantes and hypocrites and musical snobs--Rollo being a goofball character out of some old kid's book during Charlie's youth. Anyway, I was in the U.S. Army with kids from Philadelphia, most of the black kids were from Philly, Chicago, Wisconsin, and one guy who became my closest Army friend from East Lansing, Michigan.
What Detroit looked like from Canada at the time of my first visit.
My first six weeks in the Army I got no liberty--a liberty pass allowed troopers to go off base after general inspection every Saturday morning. Yep, I was base-bound my first six weeks as the Army was teaching me "discipline"; in other words, if I didn't shape up into a stiff-backed, stomach-tucked-tight-in, shoulders back obedient soldier, a tough fucking soldier who could bear living with a bunch of same-age nutjob dudes of mixed lusts and male attitudes for six straight weeks, then I'd never get a liberty pass--I'd be imprisoned in my barracks for the rest of my service--God, I couldn't take that, so, shit, I showed 'em, I shaped up into, while not a very cooperative soldier, at least soldier enough to get a god-damn liberty pass when the first time to get one came.
After I was embedded in a stupid Company--I was assigned to Company C--barracks, I quickly made friends with my closest bunkmates, 3 guys from Chicago--two Jewish dudes from the Hyde Park area of Chicago and a Polish dude named Richard who we called "Polish Sausage Dick" who lived near the Loop and the Cubs; the Jewish dudes were both lawyers--one graduated from Roosevelt U in Chicago and the other guy was a graduate of Yale Law; Polish Sausage Dick was a U of Illinois grad who had ambitions of being a Chicago politician. And like I already said, my best friend was a perfect soldier, Big Bad John, from East Lansing, a graduate of Michigan State--BBJ was intending to go to medical school one day; his father was an East Lansing physician.
When this gang and I finally got our first liberty, we spent it going into to Saint Louis and then going across the Mississippi River bridge to East Saint Louis, Illinois, and that whole weekend we let it all hang out, we shook the Army out of our heads and hair and acted like wild jackoffs. With a liberty pass you could be off-post from Saturday noon until Monday morning formation at 6 o'clock--and if you weren't in that Monday morning formation then you'd not get another liberty pass and would be put on permanent KP or worse keeping the coal fires going in the barracks boilers all night, going from barracks to barracks (there were four in our battalion) stoking the furnaces, chocking them with coal--a dirty, filthy job that also left you without sleep for most nights.
We made it back by the skin of our asses from that Saint Louis liberty, a weekend that started with a big steak dinner at Ruggiero's Restaurant, and was followed by a night of whoring at the F-111 Club in East Saint Louis, and the Chicago guys and I moseyed down to the Judges Chamber and dug Oliver Sain's band, a Saint Louis blues band, then staying up all Sunday drinking in the Wonder Bar in the Jefferson Hotel, then dragging our asses back in time for first formation Monday morning, hungover, but feeling our male oats after such a macho weekend.
From then on as long as we passed inspection on Saturday morning we got liberty passes every Saturday at noon. [The two Jewish lawyers didn't have to come to Saturday morning inspections because of the Sabbath, much to the disgust of our Gentile sergeants and our Gentile black captain who poured tons of anti-Semitic abuse on the boys when their names were called during roll call. "Horowitz? Horowitz? Where's Horowitz? What's Horowitz, a little cry-baby Jew boy? Ohhh, mommy, mommy, the little Jewboy can't come out and prove himself a real man and not a kike queer. Horowitz?" And these guys were never there and then during the week they got all the shit work, extra KP, mopping out the barracks over and over, or working the boiler room whether they were perfect soldiers or not--just because they were Jewish. They were both pretty sharp lawyers and they went over the Military Code books in the post library and they knew the military couldn't force Jewish soldiers to break the Sabbath. So these two wonderful Jewish bastards got away with going to no general inspections while they were in basic training.]
I remember distinctly it was a Thursday night and we'd been out on bivouac for three days and three nights and we came back to post Thursday afternoon and when we got back our mail was on our cots and Big Bad John had gotten a box from home and it was full of jars of Franklin peanuts--all the Chicago and Michigan kids swore by Franklin nuts--the letter enclosed with the nuts talked about lots of news from East Lansing, with the Spring Semester starting at MSU and how they were barbecuing every night now that BBJ's dad had gotten a new gas grill installed on the patio. I suddenly said, "Hey, dudes, why don't we go to East Lansing next liberty--could we do it?" The Chicagoans said they really didn't want to go to Michigan but that maybe we could go to Chicago, hang there one night, and then BBJ and I could take the ferry across Lake Michigan to Michigan. "Could we make it back by Monday morning, guys?" I asked. The Chicago dudes said they could make it back but they didn't know about me and BBJ, whether we could get back in time from East Lansing. "If we took the train--I don't know, we wouldn't have much time, man; we'd get to Chicago late Saturday night, if we get a good start--the bus to Saint Louis, then the Rock Island into Chicago. It'd be tight but we could do that round-trip easy," the Chicagoans said. BBJ, the perfect soldier, surprised me by saying, "Let's give a go, Wolfie; it'd be cool to surprise my folks--and we could go into Detroit with my sister--we could do it, Wolfie, let's go to Chicago and then East Lansing in World Record whirlwind time." We got excited and decided to try it this coming Saturday. We got discounts on buses, trains, and planes because we were soldiers and it was the Vietnam era, so we checked on all the trains leaving Saint Louis for Chicago. We thought, we'll get to Chicago by Saturday night. We'll party in Chicago--I wanted to go see Ramsey Lewis who was playing there that weekend at the SRO Club--and then BBJ and I could take the first morning ferry over to Michigan City and then on to East Lansing--getting there by noon Sunday. Holy shit. That would be scary tight--getting back to Leonard Wood from Detroit--we might have to fly. God-damn, I couldn't afford an airline ticket but BBJ said if we had to fly back, he'd cover my ticket. Case closed. We were "Going to Chicago and sorry but we couldn't take you." Then across the Lake to Michigan and some Detroit barbecued ribs. Yahoo, were we excited. The planning. The scheduling. We had to be perfectly pitched in terms of time to pull it off without showing up on post Monday night.
To be continued.
for The Daily Growler
Note: thegrowlingwolf is writing a serial here--like old Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories--as magazine serials.
Hey, look, a copy of Creem.