LUCILLE... I Fall in Love
It was late morning on a bright Summer's day that found me pointlessly ambling through my hometown. Just having arrived the night before after a several month's beautiful, yet disaster filled sojourn in Mexico, I was unknowingly struggling to make some sort of a plan to 'get on with' my young life. My head was trying to reject the logic of returning to school... or the vague idea that I should seek some sort of employment... or... (shrug)... ?
Young enough that I didn't relate to the formal labels of "dejection", "rejection", "apathy", "depression", "confusion" or "fear"... I was simply aware that I was filled with a profound emptiness that had me swirling in the grip of confusion and non-direction so tightly, that it wasn't until decades later that I was even aware of the fact that it was a most beautiful day!
Ambling, or should I say shambling, along the sparsely populated business backstreets near the center of town, I was ripped out of my befuddled reverie by the sound of my name being shouted from the intersection.
And quickly glancing up...
... the whole world changed!
I was in love!
The vision of softly rounded curves unbroken by angular harshities! I could feel her solidity and strength as I reverberated to the low harmonics of lurking power! Unadorned, uncluttered by trendy frivolity, she spoke of efficiency and purpose in every vibrating inch of her! Her history showed in the sun-faded patina of oxidation...
... and I was enthralled!
"Hey, George! Nice Truck!" I called to the friend I hadn't seen in months.
As he sat grinning behind the wheel at the stop sign... he shouted back in glee.
"You like it?... You wanna buy it?"
I mumblingly confessed to him that...
(what I later found out was a 1939, derelict, International Harvester, 3/4 ton panel truck he'd dug out of a farmer's field for free)
... it was beautiful, but I was broke. Well... I've got about $30 to my name...
... and he instantly yelled back...
Leaving the engine running, he climbed out of the driver's seat and smilingly took every cent I had!
That's how we met, Lucille and I, to begin a three year adventure along a trail of serendipity, reliability, mundane glory, strife... and so many almost-misadventures that this tale will probably have several 'sub-chapters' devoted to our varied exploits... so you, my intrigued reader, will please forgive me if I now spend a few paragraphs expounding upon her physical nomenclature.
Panel-truck... meaning there were no side windows behind the driver's and passenger doors... Lucille was a large (3/4 ton) variety that was constructed of heavy gauge steel. There were no 'corners' per se... every sculpted line was rounded... from the large front fenders, up over the slightly tilted split-windshield with it's factory curved, external sun-shade, across the slightly corroded - pitted and faded silver roof, to curve downward, encompassing the snugly fitting double rear doors with their high, miniscule windows... to roundly tuck under the rear of her chassis.
Originally painted a deep peacock/navy blue, years in that farmer's field had faded the matt finish of her paint to the point that the greeness within the formula was unevenly luminescing through... along with mellowed, orange-brown hints of an underlying beginning of all-over oxidation. Soft and rich, her hue and curves just added to her obvious solid look through contrary-appearing counterpoint as she invoked visions of a storm-tossed sea!
A long, split hood rose from those ourageously bulbous fenders and led to her perfectly intact grill with it's multiplicity of finely spaced horizontal ribs of dully rusted chrome that extended from a vertical spine. Front and rear... there were no bumpers to break the sweeping travel of my eye... just the small pairs of wrought-iron-looking bumper stanchions where they had once been bolted.
She was a truely lovely sight of hidden engineering efficiency cloaked in the earned granduer of age. A large, hulking beatle of a truck... patiently lurking with untold, untapped potential!
And as I climbed into the faded green, driver's, bucket seat... (curved, encompassing bucket seats!... standard in 1939! who'da thunk!)... and placed my hand on the knob of that tall, four-speed, floor shift that towered up into my palm on that sunny morning...
... my life changed.
LUCILLE... and the White Sisters
Oh, yes! My life had changed! I now had 'direction'... albiet that the direction was only towards whatever quarter of the compass to which I'd pointed Lucille's grill!
Her rusty - trusty flathead, straight-6 cylinder block carved paths through my twenty-year-old reality that I could never have imagined...
... like my entanglement with the daughters of the local chief of police.
My oldest friend at the time was a high-school drop-out named Andrew. We had found common-ground and an affinity for discourse back when we were both in our Junior year. 'Stoney' (he'd been named for Stonewall Jackson, the defender of New Orleans in the war of 1812) was a tall, athletically built (if not inclined) artist who was embroiled in living a life of ease and abject poverty while expressing his hopes, joys, angst and rebellion though his painting and tenor saxophone.
I was the flutist that obscessively sketched and found solace in the ranting philosophy of 'counter-culture' Beat Poets.
He wore loose sweaters and looser, laceless, tennis shoes, while my black turtlenecks, sandals and fledgling beard were becoming my 'uniform-of-the-decade'.
It mattered not that our
disparaging backgrounds were in complete opposition; his being a poor-ghetto black from the wrong side of the tracks; mine being solidly white middle-class with pretentions of 'culture'. We were of like mind in our questioning of authority, color-blind and instantly empathetic friends that picked each others brains and opinions in rambling, boundless discourses.
He introduced me to the music of the likes of B.B.King (in whose honor, I gave Lucille her name) and Sonny Rollins; while I bombarded him with Mozart and Earnest Tubbs.
Late one night we found "The White Sisters" outside a ghetto dive that had live blues music; they were there because of the feeling of 'life', the music... and it was the naughtiest thing they could think of doing to infuriate their parents.
Stoney and I were there on this dark, semi-paved sidestreet because he'd heard a rumor that the smoke-filled, drunk and sweat drenched, dilapidated, corner beer-room was going to be graced by the appearance of Nancy Wilson, a young, up and coming blues-singer.
Beatrice was 16... Cecilia was 14... And two prettier, sexier, louder, little-white-Irish-girls with attitude couldn't be imagined! Masses of dark auburn hair with natural redish highlights; impish-piercing green eyes; that Irish complextion that spoke of a translucency supporting constellations of freckles; blooming hour-glass figures that could instantly stun a young male into awestruck silence;... and raucous mouths that could blister paint.
One look at this strange duo of a gangly, bearded 'beatnik' and a rangy 'coloured' guy...
("... and they're musicians!... and they're older, grown-up (ha!) and can
probably get beer!...")
... and, I came to realize in later years, THEY decided that this was a match made in heaven.
We became an instant 5-some: Stoney and Bea; myself and CeCe... and, of course,... Lucille.
Nancy turned out to be a rumor.
Late one evening in the not-too-distant future, having picked the girls up after they had sneaked out of their bedroom window; we were all meandering down a country road by the light of a full moon. Stoney and Bea were comfortably squirming about on the rugs in the back of Lucille, giggling and whispering between riffs on the tenor sax. My attention was split between driving, listening to bass-clef cacophony and attempting to gain a little acquiessence from CeCe's thigh in the bucket seat next to me.
All was right with the world.
We were headed for the deserted, gravel, parking lot of the Country Grange Hall with all it's oak shaded privacy, where I'd be able to break out my flute to augment the low wailing and honking of Stoney's tenor-sax with some lyrical soprano counter-point melodies... and maybe some musically inspired necking and groping. Lucille was purring right along with her dim, yellow headlights illuminating the deserted blacktop. Happy... at peace and filled with hope we just blissfully cruised though the mid-night darkness.
Stoney suddenly voiced concern over a minor problem... his saxophone reed had split and he was unsure about replacing it in the dark, moving truck. He leaned forward and flicked the broken reed out of the passenger window... and we were instantly bathed in flashing red lights!
Concrete reality came rudely crashing through our non-aggressive bliss! A Sheriff's Deputy was pulling us over, out here in the middle of nowhere...
As was explained to us by one deputy when Stoney and I climbed out of Lucille; the trailing police were certain that it was a lighted cigarette that had come sailing out of the window. And while we struggled to explain that it was a discarded, broken, saxophone reed to the disbelieving cop, his partner climbed into the back of the truck with the girls.
Flashlights couldn't find the errant cigarette, we hadn't been speeding, we weren't drinking or drunk... but it mattered not that they didn't have 'cause' to stop us.
The deputy did a thirty minute inspection of Lucille while Stoney and I listened to voices full of angry protests and denial coming from inside the truck... before he handed me a fistfull of citations:
No registration; no bumpers; leaking exhaust system; burnt out tail-light; no front license plate; no rear license plate light; cracked headlight; emergency brake out of adjustment. I'm suprized that I wasn't written up for being a 'general-eyesore'!
Letting us go with the admonishion that they'd be following us back to civilization; the mood of the evening thoroughly destroyed; we were further infuriated by hearing Bea and CeCe's report that the whole thing had been a ploy because 'their' deputy had spent the entire time questioning the girls around the supposition that they were a couple of naive, under-aged, 'white-girls' that had coerced and abducted into the dark and gloomy night by two, obviously "criminal-low-life" types for the purpose being kidnapped, brutally raped and sold into white slavery.
We took the girls home and watched the cops watching... while Bea and CeCe climbed back through their bedroom window... only to be confronted the next morning by their father, the Chief of Police. He'd gotten an early morning phone call from the County Sheriff's Department it seems.
Bea and CeCe were never quite the same after that. I have always wondered what threats their father used to intimidate those gloriously innocent in deed, blithe spirits.
Let it be known that I believe the cops put ideas into the girl's heads... because I heard that three years later these delectable rebels opened the first "Topless ShoeShine Parlor" in San Francisco's North Beach. They certainly had the attitude and natural equipment!
LUCILLE... Pays a Friend's Rent
Always pure of heart and ready to offer her capable assistance, Lucille helped a family in need... and
found me shelter from the elements.
Another close friend at the time was a fellow artist who hailed from Little Rock, Arkansas. Homer, with his quick wit, his stories of his porch-bound, cocaine addicted Granny and her rocker... (a case of Coca-Cola a day, right at her side. She'd rock, and rock... and when her rocking began to slow... Why, it's time to pop another bottle!)... and his mandolin and banjo... Homer fit right into my peers.
He was also an accomplished painter. In fact it was one of his three life directives: to paint; to make music: to repopulate the world in his image.
... And in accordance with the latter, he'd met and married an immigrant Dutch print-maker.
To facilitate housing his growing 'scatter' (I last heard that they were up to nine) Homer had struck a deal with the owner of an 'abandoned' sheep ranch some five miles north of town. The rent was cheap... AND... any improvements he made to the property could be deducted from the rent.
The house was a 'linear', single story mish-mash of six or seven rooms that all had interconnecting doors! It was really one long hallway with 'twin-alcoves' every ten / twelve feet or so... with a door to the outside at either end! Homer told me that their second chore upon moving in was to get the ouside doors to close. The first chore, of course, was to chase the sheep out.
Being that I was without domicile, I prevailed upon Homer to allow me to live in one of the 'out buildings'. In return, in lieu of cash which neither of us had, Lucille and I would help him with the 'rejuvenation' project.
The building I called 'home' was a tiny, unheated, uninsulated one room affair perched on the interior of the apex of the ninety-degree bend of the country road. I mean... right ON the apex! One corner of the building was covered in old red and yellow light reflectors in hopes that any afterdark traffic would use their presence to miss the building as they went ito the acute turn!
(Most were successful.)
This room had one piece of furniture, a brokendown couch. It also had one naked light-bulb hanging from the ceiling... and a door to keep the sheep out. No heat... no water... no... anything else.
Even in the Summer it was cold in this little pocket-valley full of fog! I used to sleep fully clothed, under every blanket I had been able to scrounge, and with every piece of 'spare' clothing I could find piled on top. In the early mornings I would bolt from under all this to lope through the frost stiffened grass in my stockinged feet, across the twenty five yards or so of frozen tundra, to the 'main house' and my nice warm boots that were nestled under the side of the kitchen's huge, wood-burning box stove.
Hilda would hand a morning cup of tea into my shivering hands, ask about the materials that I had in Lucille,... and while standing spraddle-legged while massaging her aching back, look over her always protruding abdomen and list the next necessary items I was to keep an eye out for.
Homer always slept until
mid-morning, but I'd swing by the homestead about sundown to brief him about that evening's activities. I'd cruised various far-flung construction sites during the day and mentally marked the most promising in accordance with Hilda's construction planning. Homer, Lucille and I would then head off into the night to liberate loads of wall-board/ sub-flooring/ buckets of glue/ rolls of linoleum/ etc... with Hilda invariably calling after us...
"Don't forget the 'Bills of Lading'!...
"... for the landlord."
LUCILLE... Music... and the Mercedez
"A motley crew of
sociologically estranged talents, each struggling through that desparate period of personal transition towards adulthood"...
... would seem to be an apt catch-all phrase for myself and my peers at the time. Yet the reality was that we were just older-teens trying to find a balance within our 'new-found freedom'; our exploding sense of 'the injustices of the world'; our semi-conscious sense that we could 'shape the values of society'; our fervent dream to use our art and music to free ourselves from the 'over-bearing strictures' of fear of the unknown.
As I said, there was Stoney and his tenor-sax, Homer and his banjo and mandolin (he also played stand-up bass), and myself noodling amatuerishly on flute. There was also a wonderful fellow named Wayne with his slide trombone; Danny with his drums; Terry on trumpet... and last, but far from least, Tom (an older fellow who was near thirty!) who played and taught masterful guitar. Add to these 'musicians', Keith with his marvelous sense of irony... and a young Latvian refugee (whose name I never learned to pronounce) that filled the air with dark, poetic laments over the post World War II loss of his country.
A truer conglomeration of mutually supportive, mixed levels of knowledge and expertise, couldn't be imagined.
We'd gather, usually at
George's apartment (remember him?... he sold me Lucille), and we'd wail and flail deep into the night. Homer's bluegrass/folk music, Stoney's free-form jazz, Tom's magnificently extensive repertoire of folk and blues... everybody else adlibing riffs, runs and lyrics with much howling and stomping of feet! Laughter and home-spun, counter-culture philosophy that was lubricated with cheap beer and maybe a little grass. It was all an excercise in the creation of an ambience, a comraderie, a surcrease or escape from our philodophical inability to feel connected to 'normal' society.
Reliable Lucille was the group transport... to haul people and instruments... to be push-started at 1:30 am when her battery was low, for one final beer run. To get the girls home before dawn.
Yes, there was a revolving female contingent of friends. Bea and CeCe occaisionally... German Patty with her long black hair who would dance and whirl for hours... Melinda (Tom's wife) who was a consumate mandolin player... vocals by lean and quiet, big-eyed Natalie who quietly reminded everybody of Natalie Wood... SuzieQ. with her flaming red hair... and a stoically aloof Russian blue-eyed blonde who still had her accent, named Anya.
We never thought of these gatherings as 'parties'... they were more like a way of life. Not everyone was present at all the gatherings; the group mixed and swirled without schedule or routine... but if three of us were together, it was sure to grow to six or seven before too long.
One post-gathering Saturday morning Stoney idly mentioned that he wished he had a better saxophone than the battered thing he carried around in a gunny-sack. Something to the effect of, "You'd really hear some sweet sounds then! Can you imagine if I got my hands on a baritone!"
The general conversation about 'wouldn't it be nice to upgrade our pitiful equipment' somehow evolved into a discussion of the injustice of all those fine instruments just wasting away without even being appreciated... in the old highschool bandroom.
There were six of us, counting Lucille. Skinny little Kieth to vault off of her roof and shimmy through an unlocked window... He, Stoney and myself to scuttle back and forth through the opened door (trying to find a "new axe" for everybody)... whirling Patty and SuzieQ feverishly stacking cases in the truck.
Ten minutes... tops!... and we were astoundedly headed out of town; all of us thoroughly agast at what we had spontaneously done! Sure... we were excited! But we all felt guilty and sheepish as all get out! Case after case was opened as we feasted our eyes on all that gleaming brass and silver plate! We'd even grabbed a French Horn!
It took some thirty minutes of quiet talking for us to come to several conclusions:
1. We couldn't use the instruments because the school's loss was obvious, and so would we be...
2. We couldn't give them to the friends for whom we'd stolen them, because that would put our friends in jeopardy...
3. We couldn't risk trying to return them because our clean get-away would certainly tempt a instant reversal of fate...
4. They were both much to beautiful and valuable to just disrespectfully 'ditch' somewhere.
What a quandry we'd made for ourselves to jump into! We finally decided to keep our mouths shut about it all and think on it over the rest of the weekend. The following thirty-six hours were filled with raised eyebrows, side-ways glances, downcast looks, shrugged shoulders, ponderous sighs and mumbled conversations.
Poverty eventually presented the 'solution'.
Monday morning found the six of us (don't forget to include Lucille!) loping down the highway thinking we were at least going to get rich... by selling the instruments to San Francisco pawn shops!
Late morning finds us negotiating city traffic in this behemoth of a truck. We turned off of a main boulevard to cut across town to the sleazier section where the pawn shops were located. And, in doing so, found ourselves going downhill on a long, steep, block... towards Polk street.
In the intersection at
the end of the block sat a beautiful Mercedez sedan waiting to make a left turn onto Polk Street.
Cautiously, I began slowing Lucille...
The Mercedez was being timid about forcing it's way through the oncoming traffic... Lucille brakes weren't being terribly efficient, so I had to really 'stand on 'em'... That shiny, yellow, lacquered trunk with the flashing left-turn signal loomed closer... Clenching my jaw with the effort, I had my leg locked stiff with both hands pulling up on the steering wheel... The Mercedez just sat there.
(blink... blink... blink)...
The air was filled with the slow squeal and grinding sound of metal-on-metal as Lucille's pre-war, cast-iron mass began to perceptibly slow...
... (blink... blink... blink)...
Now creeping downhill at five miles an hour, and ginding slower and s-l-o-w-e-r...
... (blink... blink... blink)...
I was sure, I was hoping, I was praying through gritted teeth that we could, maybe, barely, stop in time...
... (blink... blink... blink)...
ten feet / three miles per hour...
... (blink... blink... blink)...
five feet / two miles per hour...
... (blink... blink... blink)...
at one mile per hour...
... THUMP!... We were stopped!