East of Bowery & The Circus Life

East of Bowery was what my mother called the place where we lived when I was a kid, and this is the way our family lived: when my mom wasn’t completely drunk yet, and if my dad got high in time, he might come in and Diz, my twin brother, and we got to be the family we never were, with the afternoon Western NYC sun going down over the Hudson…you could see it through the big plate glass window at front.

We knew the guy who painted the bar window, Weird Larry’s cousin, because that’s the way it was in the city then; everyone talks about how wild it was in the ’70s in New York and sure it was, but it was also like a small town and you knew everyone and everyone took care of each other. Everyone we knew were junkies or bar people and the one thing the AAs got right in their big blue book was how drunks take care of each other.

Down Hard to the End, we’d say and shake hands. It’s the circus life for us.

The Village Idiot, on 1st Ave around 9th St, was a place known for skeeviness, a honky tonk jukebox and lovely barmaids.

The story went that my mother started working there when she got pregnant with me and Diz. That’s my little brother, by five minutes. He used to hit his head a lot, a polite way why he got his nickname. It’s nicer than calling him retard like the bullies at our school. We got into a lot of fights until he told me, Stop that.

I think personally he was trying to compose himself. He was born breach; my lungs worked but his did not. He got stuck in our mother coming out. And then when we was barely learning to stand tumble and fall, his hands got burned on the slide.

My dad was there and he grabbed and ran with him the twenty five blocks from the playground at Tompkins to Bellevue in his arms with me a stoplight behind waiting at the crossings like a good boy while dad went wailing out into the intersections past beeping trucks and swerving cars with his hysterically screaming baby in his arms. It was the day that I certainly learned to walk. When he told that story over a Kool after booting up it was that he could see the skin peeling up from Diz’s palms.

My father used to tell me this story and all the others that made up our family history when he was high. It’s a junkie story so each day is a different piece of it.

Where were we? he’d say. But that’s for later.

First I went to see my mom. It was okay in the bar in the early afternoon and when I went to school to do the homework, and play some songs on the jukebox. This was the very beginning of the whole punk thing, though it wasn’t called that yet and we had some Dolls, some Stooges, Bowie and Lou Reed singles I snuck on. The rest of it was country, including an oddball 45 RPM record by something called The Dillard and Clark Expedition. And it’s funny though in my head I was into the new sounds and what they meant for western civilization and all that, it was the odd country song that touched my heart.

I felt a little weird about it since y’know punk rock was supposed to obliterate everything before it and us street kids really cared about such things because who knows we had nothing else to care about, but Rockets explained to me about Hank Williams and how all the good stuff was the same thing.

There were just a few regulars in the bar in the early afternoon. It did not start to get busy until around five. We played hooky until then and I would go and write with my schoolboy composition notebook.

I think maybe mom knew we had skipped out of school, but in her mind we could go back. She talked about it that way, hinting at the truth.

My mom had tawny hair and blue eyes and for the whole of her bar career guys fell in love with her. She had that knowing way. I think she modeled her life in some way after that John Wayne movie, the first big one. She used to cry when she saw it when John Wayne asked Maude or whatever her name was to marry him and she said.

Do you really mean it?

She said that often too as a joke to make fun of herself and how she cried. She had orange juice like me; only hers had vodka; she was alright until she got on the pills.

My father traded for them and brought them over from the methadone crowd. The first hour she was alright, but when she mixed them with speed, something else happened. The thing about talking to my mom about anything was that she would rhetorically broadcast to the bar at large: whatever we happened to be talking about. It was the innate sense of creating drama, of involving the bar patrons and ultimately selling more liquor.

That fateful day, it went something like this:

Ma I want to go somewhere tonight.

Is that so?

And then, on broadcast to the bar, over the jukebox: You hear that fellas?

He wants to go somewhere!

And turning back to me, You want to leave your mother?

I want to go see a band. I want to try to write about them.

Who?

Her voice softened and for a moment I could see why they all fell in love with her in such a place, the way her eyes crinkled up and got all shiny like the sun when you’re walking home and it’s not so bright, and the shadows of the night are settling down all around.

The Dillard and Clark record was playing and I said, I want to see this guy.

She listened dreamily and she kept it between us this time, so I fell for it & I unburdened myself to my mother.

He’s trying to be an artist. He used to be in one of the biggest bands in the world, but he quit.

Is that right? she arched her eyebrows. Some of the softness went away and her eyes flashed, but she drew me in closer.

You believe that don’t you honey? How old are you now?

Me and Diz’ll be 16 tomorrow.

And you want to spend your birthday at a rock and roll show! You want to meet a pretty girl. Well, it’s only right.

This was the moment when it turned. She’d stopped listening. The light went out and her voice turned dark. She finished her drink and turned back to the barflies.

My little boy is growing up fellows, she said.

The thing was that when she made it about you, you could see that she wanted to believe in your dreams with all of her heart. But then something would creep in, something that reminded her of the harsh world she had lived in.

She was on the stroll when she met my father. And he took her on dates anyway, another of his stories, until in her words he fed her a load of crap, sang her a song and she had his children, both of us. And it all looked good in her telling.

She got off the street, came into the bar and he even played some gigs. He still did. At Kenny’s Castaways and the Bitter End. This is how I pieced together my own life story, from my mother in the bar before she got too fucked up and from my father after he got fucked up.

I was in between.

Mom said, He don’t want to spend his birthday with him momma ‘cos she works in a bar, she broadcast. Or with his father who works on a cop line and tells everyone he’s a legendary guitarist and still has credibility because he’s sold everything else but he’s never sold that damn guitar. She raised her voice and looked at me.

My eyes welled up.

And he played at Woodstock, she said.

Old Mr. Tambourine Man.

I grabbed my notebook, slammed it shut and ran for the door before anyone saw me cry.

It was important for a man never to let anyone see you cry or it seemed that way to all of us who were trying to be men. Like that was the big test or something. That you could hold it, like some Kerouac whatever it was, your liquor, your junk, or not break up over a girl and certainly not your mother.

She yelled at me though and I turned and there was something in her voice and with the door open and the freezing wind blowing in my face, I turned back. The wind was what made it intense besides the feelings of course. It was one of those moments.

Wait, she said. She did not shout but my mother had a way about her. She just did. Something commanding that she must have gotten from her father who had been in the army for his whole life busted down to buck private more than anyone else in history, she used to brag about this.

The whole bar turned. She was good at making her life a movie. It was her talent. She always had the Channel 7 ABC 4:30 movie on in the bar, when everything still had a way of looking promising, and the late show when it came on in the dregs.

She floated to the cash register, a graceful woman in a skirt and short sleeve pinafore.

She wore those like some kind of tavern house Lois Lane.

Waiting for Superman! She told people and there would be a laugh and another round.

Ma was a good barkeep. She knew how to turn the bar into laughter and keep the crowd drinking and everyone in there with their own dream; she was like a movie projector in those moments and out of her eyes projected on the dark wall were all of your hopes.

She popped open the drawer and it caught with a bang. She peeled off two bills and then reached with them over the bar. Reaching back, I did not let the door close because I might not never make it out I was barely able to take the money from her. Two bar wet fifty dollar bills. I had never seen so much money in my whole life. Maybe I had seen it in the cop line, but never held it in my own hands.

Ma gave me her blessing and I saw something she had never let me see before. A present for my leaving on my sixteenth birthday. A tear that ran down her cheek. It was the left one, opposite the handing of the money.

I could not speak. Something must have tumbled out of my trembling lips because she said

Gwan Kid.

Just to me, no broadcast.

She gave her eyes to me and y’know I caught it. That thing she gave me. Not just the money but the projection of my dreams on her face, glowing there in the darkened afternoon bar.

Dad’s bread truck was the perfect cover.

Parked on 7th Street, east of Ave B and Tompkins Park and the Esperanza Breads logo proved great for his actual business. So he thought.

But really you suspect in hindsight that the cops had other things to bother with. But he was a dopefiend and dopefiends are paranoid first and foremost and think the world is out to get them in bicycle built for two tandem.

He was in his truck nodding out at the steering wheel when I walked up. I gave him an hour. From the length of the ash on his cigarette, I could tell he wasn’t going anywhere. Rockets Red Glare was working the cop-spot, so he let me in the door.

The place my brother worked was right next door. He rolled loose joints for Weird Larry. He had this technique where he used a dollar bill and Weird Larry had this kicking weed, he had brought back on a transport plane from Nam. He filled his boots, his backpack and his helmet with the stuff. I told Diz about mom and he was impressed, nodding, laconically.

My brother has green eyes. It was turning into such a red letter day. I had never had so much money or only ever seen so much weed ever. This made me feel like like I was growing up and going somewhere. It was Diz who the night before dared me to go.

Vietnam had just ended that year. Snow was starting to fall, just blurry little flurries at first.

In those days 7th Street was like the end of the world, the hippy thing was ending and like we agreed, the raw edge of punk was dawning. The winter of ’74 to ’75 is what we’re talking about.

This was the year of the Original Gene Clark/No Other Tour. Just last year 40 years later revived by a troupe of this year’s hippest bands, like Beach House, The Fleet Foxes, Walkmen and Grizzly Bear. With the whole grand cosmo-sonic scope of the original record, alas ours was much more humble fare.

After our hero according to legend, picked up record impresario dictator David Geffen by the scruff of his neck & was left to famously tour the back roads and byways of the American Rock and Roll dream.

Dad sold clean works for a buck and for an extra three would let the junkies tie off and shoot up in the back of his truck.

So when the shit was kicking, there would be a bunch of nods on the sidewalk and the stoop outside his truck. The best dope in those days was on 7th St. We were up on the 3rd Floor. Diz had a stack of twenty five joints in front of him.

Weird Larry smoked dope all the time. It was his mother’s apartment so there was always something to eat there. I had a meatball and some pasta with Italian bread.

His mother I guess was just glad he had come home in one piece and from Nam.

You take what you get.

My brother smiled. He has this curly headed fro while mine would be the same if I did not try to comb it. The comb was something I got from my dad and he has hardly given me anything in my whole life except whenever I fill up a composition book with writing he buys me another, a pretty cool thing.

I really wanted Diz to go with me. But I couldn’t ask. I got to my feet. Well I’m going to say goodbye to Dad, I said.

How long you going to be gone? Larry asked.

Well the concert’s tonight in Jersey.

You ever been to Jersey before? asked Larry.

He’s never been past 42th St my brother said and he got to his feet.

Are you going too? Larry asked and I felt the jerk in my throat.

My brother smiled. He had a real nice smile when he chose to use it.

I would not miss it for the world, he said.

So I felt on top of the world when we walked together down the creaky stairs. I never felt closer to my brother than that moment. He was my twin and I was afraid to ask him because he might say no. And maybe he knew that.

Maybe who knows he wanted to go all along.

There was a lookout on each landing. That’s how locked up that dope spot was. But they all knew us. It was a Latino spot; they had Loisaida, Nuyorican for Lower East Side, down cold.

There was a pretty girl who Diz stopped and talked to on the stoop.

Man, it was cold and we both had sweaters and Levis jackets. Mine was jeans and his cord we used to switch off so we could each feel like we had a better wardrobe and we had this thing where he would wear the jeans pants with the cords and me the cord jacket with the jeans.

We did not trade sweaters but the undershirts we would. He was really good with the girls. He would just stand there. He was such a deep guy and so handsome.

The funny thing we were twins and I’m not bad, I’m not complaining, but Diz was so much better than me. I never knew what to say and would stumble. He just stood there and let them sweet talk him.

It ended with a slow kiss. He seemed to be on slow kiss terms with half the pretty girls in the neighborhood and they all wanted him anyway. Some guys just got it I guess.

Then Dad was awake and talking a mile a minute. He saw us and waved his cigarette and the ash fell off. He came out of the truck and gave us both a hug.

I’m proud of you guys he said. For what?

Hey we’re all still alive. That’s saying something out here and he looked around.

A police car cruised by. All the guys on the nod.

In a car across the street there was a loose Lucy going down on some guy who kept breathing hard and saying Almost there. Almost baby.

But You ain’t even hard she yelled and we all laughed up and down the street. The guy with the door open shrugged his shoulders. Another day on the block and I knew what my dad meant and loved him for it.

So what’s this show you want to see?

Gene Clark.

I played with him once.

Really?

Yeah it was here in the village. Asked if he could use a second guitar.

Always could, he said. Asked if I could play bottle neck.

Said his songs always sounded better that way. Unless it’s McGuinn.

Yeah Dad, Gene Clark has a new album. He’s an artist now.

Always was, Dad laughed. Could never play the song the same way twice. No rehearsal.

I hear he doesn’t care if he sells records,

Dad scratched his belly and lit another cigarette.

You came from your mother?

Yeah.

Did she ask about me?

Of course. She said hello.

He smiled and lit another cigarette off the one he was smoking. He looked at both and laughed, handed the burned one to some guy standing there who was high and looked like he could use it.

The rush hour cop-line was just starting to form. They all watched Rockets and he gave them the five minutes, five fingers sign.

The Usual Suspects stood out there all day. And Rockets would trade right there in the street for dope, so the guys had all kinds of sundry items they had brought to sell.

One guy had his sleeve up and was showing off some watches. Another fellow had a bike. There were lots of bikes. Another street guy ran a bike shop on the sidewalk halfway down and Rockets did business with him.

Rockets RedGlare was a man who had a piece of everyone and it was all right somehow because he was such a nice guy. And he never had to use muscle and there was no credit. You got the thumbs up or the thumbs down and if Rockets said no, Well there was no argument, you just had to go somewhere else.

He and my father were best buddies. And Rockets was the boss of the block. The King Pin. He spoke in this old hipster patois and called my dad Big Chief and that was cool too, while my dad might hit someone else for that.

Not Rockets.

Maybe they would sell twice a day or three times or not until after dark but the regs would be there all day reading the paper and talking and acting like they were not there to score dope until they got the signal that it was open.

Rockets would clap his hands and they would form into a line. All types: suits, working Joes and straight up junkies.

Get your money ready, Rockets said. No shorts.

He was a legendary figure that worked the door at the cop spot by day and the Mudd Club by night, seemed to never sleep and had the build of a sloppy kind of fat linebacker.

He was the Mayor of 7th Street and the dopers respected him because he ran the cop-line and the dealers respected him because he could keep all the junkies in line.

It was a symbiotic relationship. Mark Zero came by with his Kodachrome camera, the Movie archivist of the block. Funny story he took reams of film of our scene for years and then his building was condemned one day and he lost everything. They weren’t allowed to go in for their pets under police orders. What any of us would give for those movies today? To see ourselves young again as we were then; it would be like going back in time. Such is life.

What any of us would give for one day to go back to the lives we used to live. It all slips by so fast. If I knew my dad would not die with a needle in his arm and I would see him again maybe I would have hugged him. Maybe not.

It was a graceful thing for Rockets to do for our father. To let my dad feel like a big shot, like a dad on our birthday and I could have kissed Rockets for it and for the graceful way he nodded at me and my quiet twin brother who’s hand he shook and said, You’re going too?

Diz nodded.

Dad slapped our backs and what if we never saw him again. As we walked away, Diz showed me the fifty bucks Rocket had palmed him.

You know what Rockets said? My brother said. He talked to me a lot more than he did to anyone else because we were twins, I guess.

What’s that?

He said your dad told me to give this to you.

Did you believe him?

We were both laughing and happy all over the place.

I want to, he said. I want to believe him.

And that’s how we felt about my dad. We wanted to believe him. We always did. Because he meant well. He really did. Rockets waved us back. You guys got ID’s he asked.

We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders in unison.

Rockets winked and pulled out his wallet. The weird thing is I started coughing and after it went on for awhile my brother shot me this Killer Joe look. I wondered what was up with him.

Meanwhile Rockets thumbed through the cards inside. It was as fat as a Bacon and Egg Sandwich from the Stage Deli. The waiter there has a big old belly and can hardly fit behind the counter.

I thought of that looking at Rockets.

Here take these he said. They’re military. No one questions a military ID.

I wanted to see, but Diz reached out and stuck them in his pocket and we were off.

2#As The flurries turned to big wet lazy falling snowflakes that we caught on our tongues as we walked. Diz lit a bone, hit it and passed it to me.

The next thing I knew we were walking up on Broadway and I was looking at all the windows as the buildings got taller as we moved turned uptown and crossed 14th St. to imagine that exponentially I could take on the lives of the people behind each of the windows.

It was the thing that always tripped me out about New York, all the possibilities, all the opportunities for life to take a turn. Just stay open and you never knew what was going to happen. We had no bags. Diz wore one of those Vietnam field jackets with the bulging side pockets.

We wore bandannas around our necks and pulled them up over our mouths to ward off the howling wind. Something about the wind in New York that it always howls louder and blows harder down Broadway like a great out of control train out of the tunnel at Penn Station and barreling down the great wide way.

I had one of my dad’s old tweed coats that was cavernous on me. Something you can grow into, he said.

I suspect he got it in one of the Rocket trades. I wore the jeans jacket underneath, a real Levis that had been scored the same way.

The only new item of clothing our mother ever brought us was Froot of the Loom white crew necks. We wore them religiously. She acted like she was nominated for mother of the year whenever she slapped a three pack or two on the bar for us to share.

Everything else came from dad and his deals. It was a great billowy pillowly walk uptown as the snow kept coming. You could look up and watch the flakes floating down and see a world with no end up above us and the mighty cavern of New York City architecture.

As we crossed past the statue of Horace Greely and Macy’s we tacked to the left so as not to lose B’way for Sixth Avenue. At the Deuce we turned left and my brother disappeared.

I stopped there in the mess of snowy commuters with rubbers on their shoes, winter coats, scarf -wound faces, slowly revolving there in place on the wide sidewalk of 42nd Street when I saw him waving to me from the doorway of a bar.

He slapped the two ID’s on the counter and ordered glasses of whiskey. The bartender a short wide man with a red cherry face and his own drink that he quaffed from behind the bar, laughed out loud at the picture we made, completely covered with hoar-frosted brows.

Take your bandannas down and lemme see your faces. He scanned us and scanned the IDs. You must be Harry, he said and laughed again.

He put his head back and his belly shook.

So y’all are a couple of mil-a-tary re-croots? His accent was both a ridicule of us and somehow at once an encouragement and admiration for the audacity of the fake.

Yes sir, I answered and offered my best salute. Diz racked me in the stomach and the bartender laughed again.

He fingered a couple of water glasses, poured them half full with brown whiskey and pointed us toward the door.

If you can drink these on your way out you can have them.

Diz nodded thanks left a five dollar bill on the bar wood wet with spilled drinks.

Drink it all at once, Diz said. It won’t taste so bad.

So I did what he said. I wanted to barf, but there was a bus driver by the door in his Ralph Kramden blue jacket and pants who coached and coaxed me through it.

I swallowed, staggered to the door, met by a round of applause by all the nearbys who had been watching us, the two snowmen come inside for fortitude. I did not feel anything at first.

It was like everything went silent.

This is nothing I said to Diz.

Next thing I knew I had slid to the sidewalk and he was yanking me to my feet under the watchful eye of a cop who intoned

Move Along Fellas, Move Along.

He had a mustache and he was smoking and he winked at me like you let me and I will let you and it was then– I remember that moment even now– it was then that I realized that we did not live in a system of laws but in a gathering of humans who if you didn’t fuck up too bad and cause a scene would give you enough rope to hang yourself.

Port Authority was certainly a circus of life or a circle of hell depending on your disposition and since we were buzzed and fortified, we joined in and watched the clowns. Wall to wall people on parade.

All the buses were socked in. We needed one to Wayne, to the campus of Paterson State College where Gene Clark and the Silverados were scheduled to appear in the campus theater. I followed Diz; he was good at making plans and following them like the born soldier Dad and Rockets called him.

Did I mention that Rockets was my uncle? Did I mention that one of the weird stories that dad told me when he was high had Rockets as our dad and not him? That they were both seeing our moms at the same time. It somehow seemed a lot more likely that he would have the connection at the Idiot, that he could call on to get her a job that weekend sixteen years ago when everyone’s life turned when she came home from the Ladies Infirmary with a test positive for pregnancy.

Now it was turning again today. I could tell that Diz had something up his sleeve. It was he who had dared and shamed me into actually making this trip. I would have been happy to imagine doing it all in my head. He was the literal twin; I was the dreamy-eyed one. The lines were backed up all the way from the windows, but Diz just walked all the way up to the front. He made a gesture to an office manager; you can just tell who these people are.

A mark.

He pointed at me.

She sighed and said, Boys, I am so glad you made it and there we were at the front of the line. There was some beefing from behind us but the office manager stared em down. We got tickets, went up the escalator to find the platform.

The buses were behind and it was getting dark outside as 4:30 turned to six pm. I had to go to the bathroom really bad. Never has a room smelled as bad as the wet doggy clothes, the shit and piss and the odeur of unwashed humanity stuffed up your nose like a head cold with every breath one dared to chance.

We shared a urinal like nine year olds. Diz got the giggles and I did too. Some man was hollering from one of the stalls about his pants:

Someone better brung my pants back or I aint a coming out, he hollered.

And we laughed and could not stop. I felt something warm on my hand and realized Diz was pissing on me, turned as he was half around to keep an eye out for trouble and watch the festivities.

There was this little man who looked like Truman Capote’s railroad homeless bum doppelganger, this horrible squeaky voice, that and eyes that looked at us so rudely. I could not get myself back into my pants fast enough.

I’ll give you your goddamn pants, he kept saying.

And you could tell by the tone of their voices that they lived in that bathroom or close by and the nature of their dispute was domestic not like the code among strangers that most travelers observed in a passing-through commuter situation.

I wanted to wash my hands, but this gnome was between me and the sink so I shook them off, wiped them with some snow from my own dungarees and followed Diz to the door.

The gnome saw me too and he must have sensed the fear of virgin blood because something in him, some aura reached for me and as I scurried out the door, I literally felt the sensation of myself escaping from his need like it was some green airborne gaseous mass of malarial infection.

He laughed and winked.

Horace, he shouted, You will get your goddamned pants. We went to the front of the line again. It was back up the stairs, past lines of people, some who had sat down in their places.

There was a plexi-glass shelter with a door at the end of the tunnel. We stepped out into the snow again to watch.

Anyplace with height in the city is like a hill in the woods where you can step out and survey your kingdom.

When the bus came, we got on first, found seats and I will never forget the smile that Diz gave me as we rode around the chute toward the Lincoln Tunnel. He was so happy and like I said, I knew something was up. The only thing was when I had another coughing fit, my brother gave me the death eye again.

What? I asked.

But he didn’t answer.

Well, It snowed all night and Gene Clark and the Silverados sang all night too.

The concert hall, an old theatre space with a stage and pitched seats leading up to it, like a vaudeville hall served as much as a shelter that night. Stragglers dragged in covered with snow as we had, warmed up, sat down, clapped along and in the third set when Gene and the fellows opened up the stage and invited all comers to sing along. He opened the first set with Strength of Strings.

For each song it was only Clark at the microphone with his guitar. He could not figure out how to work the harp attachment so when he felt like it he would whip the harmonica after the pocket of his shirt. He wore a pocket t-shirt and a pair of jeans, like a bricklayer who’d picked up a guitar and starting singing songs as they came out of him.

This was his way, to summon up the genesis of each song in the performance, as if no song was ever played the same way twice. Maybe it was an illusion. We had never seen him before, Diz my baby bro and I, but if it was, it was a helluva sweet illusion. They took a break and began the second set with Babe Ruth.

This led to a whole suite of brand new songs. The accompanynists,

because that’s what they were and there’s a talent to that, Roger White and one Duke Bardwell, looked at one another and shrugged with these shit-eating smiles on their faces. For all of us it was like watching each song come to birth.

I wrote most of these last night, said Gene Clark.

And it was not someone bragging, it was matter of fact like he was admitting to it.

He laughed, And some of them still need some work, quipped Bardwell and Clark looked at him like he was angry and then let loose a laugh.

Roger White was the serious one. He had a wandering eye and his hair combed over the other so his appearance was both spooky and angelic.

Bardwell with Gene looked like a grownup Huck Finn with the impresario he met on the Mississippi raft. Bardwell was gregarious and introduced the songs.

What’s that one called, Geno, he’d ask. You got a name for that one yet?

We got there just as the crowd had hushed for the first song and there might have been twenty five of us, weary and cold travelers by the end when Gene invited a folk music class and the instructor, a Mr. Donaldson, up to sing along a couple of hundred people filled the hall.

Hot chocolate was served. Diz met some girls and they invited us back to their dorm to spend the night.

We’re going to miss the bus? I said.

He winked and one of the girls smiled at me and it was in her bed that I spent the night.

But I have to interview Gene Clark!

Ooh I want to see that. I’m a journalist major. Are you too? the girl asked.

Diz winked again.

It was from him I learned you never had to lie, just say very little and let someone else’s imagination take over.

I asked Gene Clark about being an artist and he listened and laughed.

You’re just a kid aren’t ya. I mean a college kid.

You quit the Byrds to be an artist, didn’t you?

That’s one way of looking at it.

Candace asked, You didn’t want to be a pop star in Tiger Beat magazine, did you?

Clark laughed.

What does the pretty young lady think?

No real artist calls himself a real artist. We’re studying that now.

Real Artists? asked Clark with a sly grin

Exactly. About how real artists can only survive in an environment where they can create real art. When the environment changes, they move on.

Gene Clark nodded politely not unlike a boxer taking instructions in the corner, the whole time she was talking.

She had freckles and russet hair. She looked nothing like my mother and when we kissed in her room later that night, she really did taste like some kind of flower, not the sweet smelly part but like the actual petal. You should know what a flower tastes like. We were all kids once after all.

We started talking by their van, as they loaded. Gene Clark pitched in with the others. They just had their guitars and used whatever PA was available. They sang to one mike like some old- fashioned country round up. Isn’t that why you’re on this tour?

Clark laughed. He had the kind of laugh that made everyone feel at ease.

Duke Bardwell pitched in, We’re out here because he tried to strangle the executive of the record company. Tell em about that Gene.

Aww he’s just off the Elvis Presley tour. Duke here’s a little spoiled.

I ain’t complaining. I think what this kid is saying is right. I never saw anyone write songs like this feller, he said to me.

It’s something to think about, Roger White added, very seriously.

They had to go back to their hotel and Candace that was her name took me back to the dorm. She went in the front and I went around back where ten minutes later I heard her whisper and climbed up the fire escape. I could hear Diz laughing behind a closed door and other voices, but I did not see him again until the dawn sun rose through the barren branches of the winter trees on the hill out front. We were talking on her bed in the pooling dawn light when she went to the window. Someone was hitchhiking and she said, Isnt that your brother?

Oh shit.

You got to go? No, it’s all right, she said. It’s perfect.

But.

You’re a gentleman, I know that. You have to go with your brother. Write me a letter, she kissed me.

Diz laughed when he saw me, trying to put my sneakers on in the freezing wind & snow. And he started walking up the road. There was a motel with trucks parked.

Isn’t the bus station the other way?

I’m not going to the bus station.

How are we going to get home?

I’m not going home.

He turned and trudged. All the snow that had fallen in the night had frozen solid in the howling wind. The wind blew the snow piled high in the branches of the trees and over our heads, a hawk alighted from a branch. I looked back, saw Candace in the window. She was not looking at us. She was lost in her own thoughts, watching the day come on, a woman for the first time. What I had given her, she had in return given to me.

Diz gave me a look, stuck his thumb out walking forward not watching the road when the Dodge Van pulled over, the window rolled down, Duke Bardwell stuck his head out and said Y’all need a ride somewheres?

–Drew Hubner


Stories

3 thoughts on “East of Bowery & The Circus Life

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