by a. thornton
my grandmother used to drink a lots of beer, and she was on the Mother's board at church. My greatgrandmother hated her, and my greatgrandmother didn't go to any church, and she said that I was her best grandson, because I didn't go either.
my greatgrandmother is the only person in the world who ever understood me. And my grandmother never went to her house, but I didn't really care because my greatgrandmother knew how much my grandmother hated her. So, you can pretty well see it was a gotdamn stink going on all through my childhood.
whenever my grandmother drank beer, she would tell everything she knew. She said the birds got her mother's treasury. My greatgrandmother was quite friendly with them, and she could speak bird very well, and she even had bird features, all except her eyes; they were those of a cat. No. They were purple and blue, if I remember right.
my grandmother didn't favor my greatgrandmother. My grandmother was invisible and my greatgrandmother was, like I said before, a bird. But some of my grandmother was visible, at times when she was drinking beer. Some of my grandmother's children were chickens, and some were elephants, and I'm a cat, and I don't know how I got this way because I didn't even know my father, not really at all.
i'll tell you about that while I'm at it. I remember him vaguely. I was very young, so I might tell a lie or two along the way, but bear with me because I just might hit upon the truth. Anyways, when the war was going on--I am making myself seem young--a couple of times I remember when he was at my grandmother's house. Wait, allow me to tell you about that. My grandmother's house was only three rooms, a living room, but called the front room, a bed room--but called the middle room--and a kitchen, and the toilet was about fifty feet from the house, and it was just like those you find out in the country, and it was shared by three other families, who didn't seem to mind too much, maybe because everybody had their water faucet on the back porch and didn't have to worry about walking so far to get water. Also, my grandfather, he looked like a grape, had added another part to the house, which was called the little house, which in actuality was nothing more than a lean-to. Anyways, lets get back to the sleeping arrangement. In the first room my grandfather slept. He wasn't my mother's father, so he musn't been my grandfather. He wasn't too concerned about me either; I could sense that because he had very little to say to me. Anyways, in the middle room my grandmother slept on a divan, and me and my mother slept in a fourposted bed. And there was a picture of some people viewing a dead body at a funeral of one of my mother's friends, and there was a calendar on another wall, given to the house by some cheap insurance company that was in--what should we call it? It was a service, because most of the time anybody died, somebody would come around the neighborhood and collect a little money to bury sister jones or brother smith. Anyways, about my father, he slept in the bed with me and my mother. Let me tell you about the stove that my grandmother had in the middle room. That was really something. Kind of a large thing, and when you put too much wood in it or made the fire wrong, all kind of smoke would seem to jump out of it.
we only had three chairs in the itty bitty kitchen, but that wasn't so bad because in the summer time I used to eat out on the back porch. I could only go in the front yard in the late evening. My grandmother didn't like me playing there. I don't know why, because she didn't have a single blade of grass. Her yard looked just like a deserted desert which had been redeserted a couple of hundred times. She didn't mind her chickens playing there, but she did me.
these chickens really meant something serious to her, and I'm not kidding you. She used to grow them to kill them. And boy, couldn't she cook some damn good red beans. My grandmother was a good cook, but I really did hate her.
my grandfather didn't have all of his toes. I don't know which foot it was. He never told me which one, and my grandmother never got drunk enough to tell me. So, I was all the time looking at his feet, and he didn't like that any at all.
he had a car, which must have been a 35 Ford. He used to let me and my mother ride to Oak Cliff with him on Sunday when he was returning some washed and ironed clothes my grandmother had placed in an oval half-shaped black pot and boiled, then taken out and hand washed on a wash board; which is something you don't see too much of any more. Those black pots were really something, jackson. I yet don't see how corrugated tin and wood could clean clothes. I guess that's why my grandmother had big shoulders and itty bitty legs. Dig.
she ___?___ then wore white cotton stockings, and over them she wore colored socks. She wore a had-been headrag, and she never seemed to be without her apron. Even on Sunday when she went to church, she wore an apron with her white dress. But she didn't wear those crazy looking titty-type stockings. Man, she really thought she was looking good when she went to church. And many times I wonder if she was ....
my grandfather, who wasn't really my grandfather, never went to church. He would tell my grandmother that he was going to a different church, but he would forget and end up at the only theater which catered to apples, and he looked like a grape. But that didn't help any. It really didn't.
he used to tell one of my cousins about Tim McCoy, Tom Mix and Buck Jones and Tex Ritter, and somebody else whom I don't remember too well. My cousin would tell me everything he had said, because my grandfather didn't like me, and wouldn't ever tell me anything. Maybe because I looked like a cat. I guess that was the reason. People like that are always that way. They figure up things kind of shitty.
i never heard my grandmother say anything nice to him. I guess she hated him as much as I hated her. She didn't know that I hated her. Boy, what kind of hell that would've been, because as it was she would hit me with anything at her disposal. She would beat the gotdamn hell out of me----and I didn't even know anything about De Sade. Man, it was a daring set. But then again, I guess I was chump enough at my earlier age to give my grandmother just cause to lay her Masochistic bag down on me. Youth be a laughable thing, insomuch as it thinks out a proposition without realizing that it might have been out there before.
when I started to school I began to hear other fellows talking about taking showers. I told my mother about that, and asked my grandmother. Neither deemed it necessary, so I went back to school thinking that I had a good thing going, and asininely telling the guys that you didn't have to take a shower. And they all laughed at me. Real deeply.
i remember that all of the cousins then born, and because we lived close together, would all have to bath in the same tub of water. One at a time, of course. Luckily, there were no girls to embarrass us boys.
in my grandmother's backyard there were a couple of very large trees. I don't know what kind they were, but they were real big. And I know that always after the winter months my grandfather, who wasn't really my grandfather, would spend all summer trimming off dead branches. I think he did that because the tree was very close to our toilet. The limbs were very big and seemed to sag to the ground during the winter months; that's when you have a lots of ice in texas.
most of the summers we spent throwing old 78 rpm records at my grandmother's chickens. Sometime we were lucky enough to catch one standing still and break his gotdamn neck with one of them gotdamn old 78 rpm records. We must've been some disturbed little bastards without really knowing it. But like they say: you can do a lot of chaotic things when you're unaware of their nomenclature.
i'd like to apologize, but I really don't know why I should do that--because I haven't bad breathed anyone.
The above short story is from a handmade, homemade magazine called risoluto, the December 1967 issue. Under the head in itty bitty print, as the author would say, was "Not Suitable for Young Persons." On the back page is written: "risoluto is published monthly at ___ Cedar Crest - dallas, texas, by a. thornton and cohorts in distress."
I first met Allen Thornton in my brother's office at one of the big Dallas dailies. He was up there to drop off a manuscript of a book he'd just completed called conversations with myself, which turned out to be a huge manuscript, at least 600 pages of single-spaced typing and some handwritten pages, too. Later at my brother's home I tried to read some of it but found it impossible to read due to Allen's unorthodox way of punctuating his writing with the intent of his otherwise story of just plain-ole days as a kid living with his mother's mother and a bunch of relatives who aren't really his relatives and how in order to pass time he started conversing with himself--making up characters for all the characters that filled the daily pages of his crawl from that three-room railroad house down in the Trinity Flats of Dallas, Texas, up out of the flats to higher ground and this was back in a time when Dallas's black population was expanding, moving rapidly out from its original neighborhood, which was out behind the Texas State Fairgrounds and running from north up by Samuels Boulevard (later Thorton Expressway) south down to Second Avenue. Soon blacks were moving south across Second Avenue--the street that ran along the south side of the Fair Grounds--and into a formerly all-white neighborhood where whites who worked at the big Proctor & Gamble plant lived--Colonial Avenue and Forest Avenue--and soon the blacks had driven the whites out of what then became known as South Dallas--the black part of town--and soon blacks were moving west and crossing the Trinity Flats and moving into upwardly mobile South Oak Cliff--a section of Dallas that was across the Trinity River and sat on a high cliff, thus the Oak Cliff--Oak Cliff was famous in the 1950s as the home of the Old Scotchman Gordon McLendon's KLIF radio station, the original home of Top 40 radio--invented by the Old Scotchman. The Old Scotchman was the first radio station owner in Texas to mix white and black artists together in his Top 40 lists, which he claimed he based on Billboard magazine's Top 100 Bestselling Records list--McLendon played Frank Sinatra's hits right alongside Jimmy Reed's latest hit out of Chicago's blues scene--plus he'd throw in an old Louis Jordan jump tune occasionally--and he'd sometimes mock droopy drawer singers like Perry "Oh-so-Slow" Como or he'd play Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and follow it with Pat Boone's terribly limp-wristed version.
When I met Allen he was living in Oak Cliff though he'd grown up out at the end of Second Avenue in the Scyene Flats or maybe down in the Trinity Flats--and Oak Cliff was "movin' on up" for him. Later I talked a long time with Allen--he told me he read Kafka a lot and from reading Kafka--and philosophers like Kant and Nietzsche--he had developed the ability to hear himself reason in several voices at once and so he had several voices going on at once in his head and that's what he meant by "conversations with myself"--one voice being his kid character--his kid character who hated everybody and, yes, everybody hated him, too--it is interesting to note that Chris Rock's teevee show about himself being a kid is the same sort of idea as Allen had back in the 1960s--Everybody Hates Chris--and another of Allen's voices was his philosopher character who could ramble on enigmatically for a straight hundred paragraphs without stopping. Allen used capital letters to suit himself. He usually didn't like to use an initial cap on the words starting his paragraphs! Nor did he spell dallas or texas with initial caps. Nor did he sign his own name with any caps--he was a. thornton--and yes the period was a part of his signature. But when you conversed with Allen, he was Allen. When you were with Allen and his friends he was Allen. Allen ran a shop & art gallery he called the Back Door and he was always proud to tell everybody that Allen Ginsberg had appeared through the wall of his Back Door one day and, as Allen said, he "Smiled and smiled and smiled."
I proudly say Allen called me one day and asked me to write something for risoluto and I did, two things, both jazz poetic spoutings as I called them in those days of "jazz (notated measures) and words" being toyed with--Mingus did it--Dizzy did it--and Kerouac put words to Bird solos--and Kerouac and Ginsberg always read their poems and books as though they were reading them to a 4/4 beat, why they were called the Beats, the beat and the beatific sense the beat left you in, left you cool and laid back and able to spin out awesome solos either on pianos, saxophones, or typewriters--and Allen published both my submissions and I still have the now-yellowing magazine and it's a bit soiled from being published now 40 years ago--and I was so young in those days and Allen wasn't that old, but my brother's gone now and I wonder about Allen. He'd be awfully old now so I'm sure he's probably gone. Allen was a part of a crowd of very avant-garde Dallas black artists who would go on some of them to become big stars--Allen was always at the Pink Mink, which was owned by his friend the pianist Red Garland. Allen also championed unknowns like the great unsung Dallas pianist Carl Henderson--as Allen wrote about Carl, "Carl Henderson the pianist and chemist who is unemployed at both"; or you could find Allen up at the Green Parrot hanging out with Fathead Newman and the great James Clay--or over at the Bronze Knight diggin' the Roger Boykin Trio with Roger on piano and Willie T. Albert on trumpet--or down at the Club Lark where Roosevelt Wardell was leading a group that featured the great Marshall Ivory on tenor. Yeah, I know it ain't great writing, but I found it gathering dust on one of my book shelves and I decided to publish it--I think it's quite quaint and I know it's pure a. thornton.
The Great Roger Boykin on the left and ultragreat William "Red" Garland on the right.
James Clay--one super dude, super musician, and acqaintance--I went to college w/James!
David "Fathead" Newman--also a North Texas State U grad/there along w/James Clay.
Ray Charles playing in Nashville in 1959: That's Edgar Willis on bass; Fathead Newman behind Ray; Hank Crawford, Marcus Belgrave, and the Raylettes. Willis and Belgrave, too, went to North Texas State--Ray came to Dallas and North Texas State every year to audition musicians out of the NTSU Lab Band (NTSU had the first college jazz program in the USA). Ray's playing a Wurlitzer electric piano, the first-ever electric piano!
for The Daily Growler