"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Thursday, January 13, 2005
un-re-strained Function: adjective
1 : not restrained : IMMODERATE, UNCONTROLLED
2 : free of constraint
3 : Myrtle Beach, 1979
The weather was hot, and so was I. It was July, 1979, and I intended to eat the world.
I was doing it, too.
That summer, I was the featured act at Sloppy Joes on the Boardwalk in Myrtle Beach, SC. The area is very different now, back then it was still transitioning between an old Coney Island style area and the high tech playground it is today.
I needed a job in June because I had a disagreement with the owner of the Jade Tree where I had been playing. I hired an agent, and after a week when she never even called me, I went looking myself. Sloppy Joe's needed someone and I offered to do a night for free. They hired me as soon as they heard me.
A week later the agent called. She had found a gig, in the afternoons. I asked her where. It turned out to be where I was already working. She didn't even know I was already the headliner at night.
Now, Sloppy Joes was the kind of bar that I had no business even walking into, much less working in. It was rough. They served beer, lots of it, cut with a few hot dogs here and there. Everybody sat on bar stools made of particle board, and the tables were very heavy duty solid wood things with a huge coating of shellac. A few pool tables, pinball games (the kind that paid out, under the table, if you knew how to ask) and a big homemade jewelry counter rounded out the place.
Still, it was mostly beer. The pool tables were just to give people something to do while they drank beer. The music was too.
So, here I was, a 19 year old tanned surfer musician, in a room full of rednecks where all the women were drunk, on vacation and looking for a good time. To me that was paradise.
I got to know people I never would have met in any place I had frequented before, people I never knew existed. The area was controlled by two groups, gypsies and carneys. Sometimes they were mixed together, usually they got along.
A nightly customer was Papa Leo. Leo was one of those old men who look like all their pores just opened up wide and turned them into some sort of brown coral. He had dark jet black hair and huge eyebrows and an even bigger hairy nose. Leo was a great guy. He would sit at the bar all night and have glass after glass of wine, which he never paid for, and regale everyone around him with story after story.
You see, Leo was a gypsy. Not just a gypsy, but king of a tribe of gypsies. Sloppy Joes was owned by another gypsy, so the wine was free for Leo. Always.
Leo was filthy rich, and owned a large part of the North end of Myrtle Beach from what I was told. He lived in a mobile home on the main highway with his wife, who advertised outside as a fortune teller.
Just across the street from Leo's place was Atlantic Beach. Atlantic Beach had always catered to minorities. South Carolina was heavily segregated and prejudiced during the formative years of the 20th century when city limits were drawn, and the local police and fire departments didn't want to go into Atlantic Beach. Therefore, all of the through roads except the main highway were blocked off, and the city limits were drawn around the entire area.
How blatantly cruel. I mention this because I noticed that the city limits did include Leo's place. The man had pull when he wanted to.
Another regular at the bar was Misty. Misty was one of those ladies that defy you to guess their age, they could be anywhere within 20 years of whatever number you came up with. She mentioned that she dated one of the guys that developed the Pink Panther cartoon, and drove the character around Hollywood, so I guess that means she was old enough to drive in the early 60's.
And here it was 20 years later, and for Misty it had apparently been a hard 20 years.
You know the look, I'm sure. Long ago she would have been pretty. But now, after too many nights with too little sleep, waking up in far too many strange beds, and enough alcohol to pickle an elephant, she was overweight and stoop shouldered, her face lined with stress wrinkles, and her mood usually sad and regretful. Oh, she was likeable enough, and a good friend, but that undercurrent was always there.
I remember one night when she got far too drunk. She had been seeing a guy half her age and he had dumped her, I think. She wanted to kill herself, or failing that, to drive home.
I took her keys and stayed with her in an open air restaurant until the sun came up and she was heading into hangover from drunk, making sure she didn't hurt herself.
Misty was a very lonely person. She had no family, no children, and no future, but worst of all, no hope. If she is still alive I would be amazed.
Mark was a nice enough guy. Dark hair, mustache, twenty something, obviously well educated and well spoken. He ran a food stand on the ocean side of the boardwalk. I liked Mark.
Until one night, when he had a bit too much to drink.
He told me that his father was very influential in the state government but had disowned him (you will note I am not giving any specifics here, although I was very surprised when I found out how influential.) I asked him why there was such conflict, when he seemed like such a nice guy, and surely it could be patched up. I mean, how bad could it be?
"Well," he said, looking down. "He can't accept the way I am."
I sat for a moment. "Are you gay?" Back then, it was definitely not accepted to be gay. At least in South Carolina.
"No, not exactly," he said.
A moment passed.
"I like young boys."
I realized that almost every time I had seen Mark, he had a young 13 or 14 year old boy with him. The boy never said much, and there was never any outward sign of physical affection. But I was sick to my stomach.
I had no idea what to do about it. So I did nothing.
There were always fights in Sloppy Joes, usually pretty quick ones, and every one of them ended at the paddy wagon that they parked outside the front door every single night. By the time I arrived to play at 9pm there were no families around. The average clientele would be rednecks and bikers and girls looking for some action. Not one person in the place would be sober, and when customers bought me beer I wasn't allowed to turn it down.
Some nights that was a problem, and one night I fell off of my stool at the end of the show. I finally worked it out with the waitress to just take the beer after a certain amount of time, and make it look like I had finished it.
Certain songs were big crowd pleasers. Anything by Lynard Skynard went over great, Crosby Stills and Nash did too. "Dixie" was treated like the national anthem, everyone would stand, hand over their hearts, and sing along.
But by far the best was blues.
One night I was in the middle of a blues set and a guy came in with hair down to his waist and a little Chevas Regal bag. His name was Duncan, and he asked if I minded if he sat in with me on a couple of songs. No problem, I said.
He dumped the bag out, and it was filled with harmonicas.
And when he started playing, wow. The guy was incredible. It turned out that he had even played with Muddy Waters at one time. He wanted a job, I hired him.
Between the two of us, we'd suck crowds in like yellow jackets on spilled Coca Cola.
One night I had the crowd in a particularly good mood, and it was still my first set of the evening. I decided to do one of the songs I usually reserved for later on, because it was rather risque, but these people were obviously primed for action.
The song was by Jimmy Buffet.
I really do appreciate the fact you're sittin here.
Your voice sounds so wonderful but your face don't look too clear.
So, barmaaaid bring a pitcherrrr, another round of brew...
And honey, why doooon't we get druuuunk and scr...
It was right about then the police stormed in. It seemed that during the day the owner had wired up a speaker over the outside door to bring more people in from the street. Unfortunately, he hadn't told me anything about this. My plaintive ode to consumption and carnality had been blasting up and down the whole street.
Which is considered public profanity.
Thank heavens for fans. They passed a hat and paid the fine.
I mentioned before how people think they become invisible at the beach. I was learning that I could be invisible too. This was going to be a dangerous lesson before it was all over.
Every day that passed I became more extravagant, taking more risks, lowering my standards more and more.
Life became more frantic, and I pushed myself harder and harder to keep up. During all of this I was also taking classes at the summer session of the local college, frequently only getting three hours of sleep, if that, for days on end.
I've never been attracted to recreational drugs, so the temptation was not there for cocaine (which was not all that widespread) or for speed. But caffeine, that was a different matter. Hey, you could get that over the counter, how could it be bad for you?
Eventually, I was taking a box every two or three days, plus drinking copious amounts of coffee and Coke. Anything to stay going, I had to go full blast, faster, faster...
And one day, on the way to work, it caught up with me.
I was in heavy traffic and all of a sudden knew that I was dying, right then, in some horrible painful way, and it terrified me. I pulled over, shaking like a leaf. Of course, nothing was actually happening to me, and I managed to calm myself down after a few minutes and go on to work.
I wrote it off to the caffeine. Now I know that it was a full blown panic attack.
So, did I slow down and sail right?
Not on your life.
And then, one night, she walked in, and I was in for a world of trouble.
Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.