ONE DAY IN STOCKBRIDGE

Moments. They flock to mind, come and go. There is no reason on this late June Night (have I said “time flies” lately?) that I should be thinking of this particular moment. It’s worth only a few words; or maybe a paragraph or two.

It’ll get far more than that.

In the Seventies, I worked at a little daily suburban Boston newspaper with a guy named Bill Greville. I liked him. We were both reporters. We joined up for a couple of excursions — one time to the Cape (Cape Cod), another time to head out west. He was a Williams College grad. On this westward trip, we stopped into a dark little backstreet bar in downtown Stockbridge, Mass. It was afternoon. There wasn’t another soul in the place besides the bartender and us. The bartender was a Korean War vet, a solemn but genial sort of guy, if that makes any sense. Just friendly enough to be sincere, no fake charm. Since I’d served in Korea (twenty years after the war), I seem to remember that gave us something to talk about — him and me, at least.

But both of Bill and I were talking to this bartender — name long forgotten, if, indeed, we ever asked it — about the rambling, famous Arlo Guthrie ballad, “Alice’s Restaurant” which is set in Stockbridge. In fact that’s exactly what we’d been talking about for some time when another guy walked into the bar and sat down next to Bill and me — whereupon the bartender said, “gentlemen, meet Ray Brock….”

Ray Brock was the husband of Alice Brock — of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame. The song became an Arthur Penn-directed movie of the same name, released in April, 1969 at the ragged end of the decade it more or less celebrates and to which it tries to lend another measure of pop cultural heft, as if any was needed. It was, in a sense — or the movie was — a Sixties culture time capsule making much out of little material — there was the rambling ballad and its crazy narrative fact about a trip by Arlo Guthrie to Western Mass some years before. Arlo plays himself, rather badly, in the movie and serves as narrator. At the core of the story is a trip to see Arlo’s friend Alice Brock at Thanksgiving time. The song/movie is, more than anything, about, post-dinner illegally-dumpingof garbage, leading to Arlo’s comical arrest, etc., his subsequent, somewhat unrelated trip to the draft board which gets woven into the narrative, because, if I recall, the dumping arrest helps save him from the draft. (Contemporary environmentalists, and probably not a few of them back in 1969, were probably not happy about the denigration of the environment, i.e., the illegal dumping of unsorted garbage down a Berkshire roadside embankment that is at the core of both Arlo’s ballad and Arthur Penn’s movie — not to mention the failure to recycle. I actually think it underscores the wanton carelessness of the counter-culture. You may recall images of the rubbish-strewn aftermath of the sprawling Woodstock concert venue of that same year.)

All in all, the movie is a so-so counter-culture/anti-Vietnam War/ anti-regimentation, anti-military celebration of communal hedonism — in my distant, square & sober adult hindsight estimate. I did go see it upon its release, though before my own military draft. ( I’ll always recall the day I was being pushed unhappily through training, possibly bayonet training, at Fort Dix after my October, 1969 induction and seeing, close by, the big marquee on the base movie theater. It was advertising, in huge letters, the current feature film — Alice’s Restaurant. I’ll bet a lot of trainees, on their rare, unregimented free time, found some deliverance in the dark at that theatre before moping back to their barracks to resume their basic training nightmare. For my part, I saw no reason to see it twice. )

The people Arlo sang about were real and the incidents were real — though significant liberties were taken and serious dramatic augmentation was necessary to achieve a script for a feature-length film, with Alice and Ray Brock at the center of it all , played well, it must be said, by B-list actors Patricia Quinn and James Broderick.

So — that day in Stockbridge, all of a sudden, as BillGreville and I were on our second beers, we found ourselves sitting in the presence of the real Ray Brock ( I have no reason, based on our conversation, to doubt for a minute that that was exactly who he was). I recall he had an earring and short hair. He struck me as a blue collar working guy, which in fact he was — he taught “shop” for a while at a local high school. I recall he was a ambiable, open, and, I sensed, no stranger to barstools. Neither was I in those days. I recall him saying a publisher had approached him — or he had approached them — about writing a book about his “thoughts.” This would have followed on questions about how he felt about being portrayed in a movie. I can’t for the life of me recall whether he liked the movie but suspect he did, since it gave his ordinary life a soupcon of respectability and fame — although it was not an entirely positive portrayal of a man who’s wife was on the promiscuous side — which, by the way, is why the real Alice Brock reportedly had serious objections to the movie. But the soul next to us on the barstool a soul, this otherwise anonymous and ordinary denizen of Stockbridge might have found the trade-offs acceptable, as did the local cop known as Officer Opie who also gained a little immortality from the movie by playing himself. (The story goes that when he heard they were making a movie, based on the song, based on his “illegal dumping” arrest of Arlo, he insisted he play the part himself. “If anybody’s going to make a fool of me,” he reportedly said, “it might as well be me.”

Thereafter, young movie-goers were known to cruise by and greet him as he directed traffic in the center of town.

Too bad Bill and I didn’t meet Officer Opie that day.

Anyway, I Googled ole Ray tonight and found out that he died in 1979, cause of death unstated. That would have been only a few years after this encounter. He looked perfectly healthy when we met him.

Rest in Peace, Ray.

Bill and I, after a decent, garrulous interval of fellowship, drained off our beers that day, rose from our stools and went on our way, leaving Ray with that anonymous friendly, war veteran bartender for whom I suspect Ray was apparently something of a regular. If I recall, we were bound for Lenox and Tanglewood. High culture. I forget what we heard — or even if we made it into the concert.

I hoped I’d remember that, having remembered the barroom.

POSTSCRIPT I:

It often seems as if, throughout the Seventies, one was encountering the flotsam and jetsam of Sixties culture — consisting of quirky people, places and things — before they sank out of sight and and into memory. This was such an encounter. Sometime these are barely-worth-remembering memories and “moments”.

In retrospect, I think there was something tragic about Ray Brock. I believe he and Alice were long divorced. They were –based on semi-reliable sources — married in Greenwich Village and first lived in a desacralized little white Stockbridge church. How delightfully counter-cultural! How Sixties!

Alice owned a series of restaurants after the one where Arlo visited her. She was, according to Wickepedia, born in 1941. I find no record of her death. She’d be 90.

File this ramble under one under one man’s (meaning my) life’s trivia.

For purposes of this blog, I’ll file this memory under — “moments.”

POSTSCRIPT II:

I’ve tried to find Bill Greville recently. A long, deep internet search suggests he left public relations (which came after newspapering) and did some acting around New York City. I think the very last time I saw him was at the Williams College Alumni Club in Manhattan — many years ago. I’ve made phone calls and sent emails trying to reach him. No luck.

If you read this, Bill (unlikely), know I’m looking for you. We can talk about some of those “moments.” Or maybe you’d just as soon forget them — and have forgotten me.

Life moves on.

WITH THE HUNTER GRACCHUS IN AN UNKNOWN PLACE….

First I come upon The Hall of Mirrors. I am able to go wandering among the mirrors, the walls the the ticket-taker’s kiosk and the doors all collapsed, shattered, only the mirrors in tact. Animals have been here, and vandals. I smell their urine. I see their graffiti.

I wander among more abandoned seaside pavilions past pools of dark black water, some like mirrors. It might rain again.

What is this place? Where am I?

Then, before long, I am walking with the famous eternally itinerant Hunter Gracchus who has come ashore again, this time to this strange place where I find myself….I was delighted to meet him as I rounded a corner near a rusting, broken carrousel, its colorful horses long ago ripped off their pedestals and carried off. Those who had borne Gracchus ashore wait by his bark near the water. He had obviously risen up and decided to walk in this strange, disturbingly anonymous place where I find myself. He wishes to explore it a little. I guess it’s his kind of place.

But then, his fate and direction in this life is — rudderless. I know that from my previous encounter with him. He goes where he goes. Simple as that. Simple and strange.

I recall reading of his previous landing in a seaside place called Riva, an unknown place in an unknown time, but long ago. The account of that episode begins:

Two boys were sitting on the harbor wall playing dice. A man was reading a newspaper on the steps of the monument, resting in the shadow of a hero who was flourishing his sward on high. A girl was filling her bucket at the fountain….A bark was making silently for the harbor as if borne by invisible means over the water….

That was old Gracchus’s bark. The Hunter Gracchus came ashore to that place not unlike this place, though there are no monuments here, none that I’ve encountered yet, anyway. He obviously had been hoisted off his bark by two men bearing a bier on which he had rested, as if dead– the same men who wait for him now like pallbearers; tall and sturdy fellow, and patient, for they do not know how long they must wait for their charge. They sit on the edge of the bark. ( Do I see one of them smoking? Can’t blame him. It’s been a long, tedious — and endless — voyage.) And Gracchus, seemingly dead, is walking, as if somnambulant. We’ve got to talk.

Now, please, do not see him as a zombie, not the walking dead of b-movie legend. He is walking as you or I might slowly, inquisitively walk, eyes brightly, but serenely open, if we were on such a mystical journey. Yes, it might seem like sleepwalking. But it is wide awake-walking. That’s what I’ll call it. His demeanor, his stride, commands attention among the few who might witness it. He brings peace by his demeanor, but mystery as well. He IS mystery itself. Walking mystery.

The town’s burgomaster in that former long-ago place of debarkation named Riva, upon meeting Gracchus, asked:

Is it true, Hunter Gracchus, that you have been cruising about in this old boat for hundreds of years?

And I ask, this century or more later, the same question. I get a simple nod of affirmation.

I speak, seeking help with memories:

“Gracchus,” I say, getting his attention as we walk in a light breeze in which he regards all the ruins before him but most impassively as if nothing interests him or perhaps everything interests him. It is hard to tell. “I have found a cyber memory that enfolds a paper memory,” I tell him. “And it has sent me into an infinite, mirrored regression of memories of lost correspondences, flimsier than paper, and it has introduced me to even more lost memories — all on this twenty-fourth day of this sixth month two days after the longest day of the year, in this twenty-first years into this twenty-first century in which I am making new memories all the time; thin and soiled like candy wrapper litter discarded by the former merrymakers in this once-cheery abandoned venue we are exploring, collecting at my feet and about my head, as if blown about in a gale.

“Some are pleasant, many are disturbing or unwanted. But I want time to stop much as it seems to have stopped for you — only can we, you and I, cease to wander? For though you endure your fate without agitation, I, among the living and hungry for more life, wish otherwise for myself. I want time past and time present to all be present in time future. Help me with this. Will these memories keep surfacing, blowing and circling about in a vortex, only to be lost, found, then blown about, lost again, then carried off in a sea breeze such as buffets us now? Then lost forever? Or must I always be proceeding backwards in search of them, like a man running across that vast, cracked and empty parking lot over there, chasing scraps of memory? Won’t those memories ultimately be blown out across some nameless sea such as the one we see here from this unknown seaside place of lost diversions? And without memories, be they pleasant or unpleasant, what are we, any of us?

“But we all long for what seems to elude both of us at this moment, the trumpet sounding as the great happy choruses of joyous trumpets and hurdy-gurdies and children’s laughter and squeals of joy and celebration once rose up from this place, only we seek, indeed, we long for the the dead to rise incorruptible, all those who are now only memories that once joined us in this life, and for us to be changed, no longer in need of memories, eternally situated in God’s presence, the God Who loves us….”

So I spoke to Gracchus. I should tell you, as I told Gracchus, that my multilayered, conch-shell-like memory — that being memory wrapped within a memory within a memory — was a paltry thing evoking memories of people far from those central to my life over many decades. Not my father, mother, sister — no, just average but fond acquaintances in average times. But isn’t memory like that? We are pleased to recall those we’ve known in this life, then, suddenly, our memories are primed and the water flow and we go on thinking, as in a reverie, about those we could never have lived without. Was there not once a story of a man who bit into a madeleine cake and, under the spell of the memories that then flowed forth, written three long volumes in search of lost time?

Here is what primed my memories pump, Gracchus. A letter from a specific, not long-ago time….

July 29, 2012

Dr. Clark(former college professor),

From out of the musty, depressingly cluttered depths of my basement comes a yellowing sheet of memory — Oct. 22, 1969 edition, Suffolk Journal( a student newspaper).

You’re there. Who’s the blond? I recognize the beguiling Harriet Allebach(another professor) .

It was all about war, those old newspapers. Everything seemed to be about war in those days. I’d already graduated and had driven to California the month before. I would be inducted into the Army in Boston on Oct. 29, so I might have returned to Boston by this time. Don’t know how I happened to have this edition of the paper. Not at all sure why I saved it and am convinced I must slay the packrat in me. But I’m sadly incapable of simply hoisting and tossing wads of probably useless paper — for fear it might have something like this in it, for whatever it is worth.

I specifically recall how, in 1969, the FUTURE was this dark road ahead. Now, it’s the dark road behind. I went swimming on a secluded rocky beach in Rhode Island today and, up to my neck in the ocean under gray skies — I swear my mind was doing a “Dover Beach” number. I was melancholy. As usual.

Back to the basement — I found a few old editions of the Journal from ‘69 and discarded them after being depressed by the puerile writing, the callow preoccupations of that moment, such as a new Beatles album, Abbey Road, reviewed in this edition by my late friend and Suffolk ( and Woodstock) alumnus Bob Jahn who deemed it to be so good as to “staggers the imagination”. Oh, my!

Troving about, sorting and digging through papery mounds, I felt the need somehow to find and embrace permanent, enduring things.

“That is how it ends, Gracchus. It trails off. Can you believe that I don’t know that I ever even mailed this? That no one but I and now you ever knew of it? Doctor Clark is dead these three years. Bob Jahn, an old friend, ( the newspaper reviewer) is dead these twelve years. Beguiling Harriet Allebach, who knows where she is, dead or alive? The house with that basement, is long gone to other owners, occupied by them now with their memories. Those old newspapers? Buried again somewhere. So fragile.

“And just today, while I’m thinking about things lost or surrendered, I let a table and some chairs go to strangers for forty dollars from this place where I live now. They had carried with them, memories, however recent and brief. The room where they stood is horribly empty. But there are memories in it. Don’t we, as we vacate a place we live, wander through the empty rooms recovering — memories? And I so regret leaving the last place I abandoned on a street named for a blue heron. What is it, what restlessness, drives us forth from places where we ought to stay and find our peace; find, as Pascal suggested, the strength and wisdom that comes from staying in once place in our one little room?

“But we mortals are known to let things go for various reasons, wise or unwise, of space and time — and money. But then, that emptiness….

“So, I am sharing this with you, Gracchus. I’ll walk you to your bark, for you seem anxious to depart again. Take this compound memory of mine with you, please.

“Will I see you again? If I can get back there, might I see you off the coast from that Rhode Island rocky beach on your bier aboard this bark? Or might I see you out on the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico where it approaches land near where I once spent time writing? Can you help me get back there?

“I don’t know the name of this place where we are walking, or how I got here, but — can you reconsider and stay? Help me get oriented? Or perhaps I might come aboard your bark with you in the hope that it might help me get back to where I came from?

“Can we have coffee somewhere, search for another soul with whom to share — our memories?

But he answered….

I think not. I am here, more than that I do not know, further than that I cannot go. My ship has no rudder, and it is driven by the wind that blows in the undermost regions of death.

“Well, that’s pretty heavy. But do as you must. “

So, reader, I’ll just see him off, then search alone for that coffee in these “regions of death.” There must be a place here, a pleasant cafe with pleasant faces. A Burger King, a Seven/Eleven with coffee, good or bad, and maybe those little pods of International Creamers, though I like my coffee — black.

There must be Regions of Life, however tawdry, but might they all, at their hearts, like this squalid, broken, abandoned once-happy place, be empty? Perhaps a friendly clerk might alter my mood of forlorn disorientation. Perhaps there are the beginnings of memories here, wherever I am, if I can hold on to them….if they are worth anything.

Gracchus, for his part, insisted he was going. He lay back down on his bier, the bark drew away, the two silent men with him, clearly not any kind of company for either of us, casting off in that rudderless vessel, being borne far, far off toward the horizon until I could see that old boat no more.

I waved. What else could I do?

PRE-SOLSTICE DREAM OF A SUMMER YET TO BE….

I always feel like I’m missing summer. It’s my own fault. I want to catch it, like a wave.

I write this as a thunder storm is sweeping over Tampa Bay, my home at the moment. I welcome those storms — as a dramatic sign of a Florida summer. But I miss the seasons, ultimately. Or, at least, spring and summer.

I see that a female former colleague — a joie de vivre kind of soul, cancer survivor, attractive, single, still working in television at 61, free spirit, frequent Facebook flyer — has posted a picture of herself out in a bight, rocky, open patch of nature, arms flung up in the air, wearing a light pastel shift, tanned, blond head flung back as in some bacchanalian sun worshiping ritual. And her caption says something like, “I’m welcoming summer!!!” …

…as are many up north, especially after the draconian pandemic lockdown that has gently been eased. And it will fly, summer. All time is flying. Or, perhaps, it is, like the distant mountains, never really moving. Never really “past.”

But anyway…

I think of how I’ve abstained, or been too lazy to undertake, summer after summer, the outdoors stuff — the good solitary, watery seasonal things. I’ve already posted things on this blog over recent weeks about summer in the Sierra, etc.. Life lived in the rear-view mirror. But even then never did I fully, boldly partake of any canoe trips, mountain hikes, sailing, golfing. Not in a steady, summer-submersed manner or spirit. Now and then, yes, And never alone. I enjoy being alone.,

Life is short. I hike, sail and golf — that you really shouldn’t do alone — only in my imagination. Timorous and lazy soul that I am — and far from youth — I’ve gone on squandering the hours. Seize the day! Seize the seasons! Seize summer!

Let me be alone for these occasions when you can sink into life. Note that my former colleague was doing her sun-basking ritual — alone. (I suspect she set a camera up to catch it, no photographer necessary. She is, by trade, a photographer. But, it should be noted, she shared herself with the Facebook world. I’d be alone without cameras, out of sight of Facebook. Only in sight of God’s face. In God’s holy season.)

By the way, I’ve NEVER golfed. So expensive! I’ve never skied either, not really. Not past the bunny slope.

Skating ( if I might speak for a moment of that other season, winter) was part of my life in the late fifties. Then the folks sold the camp on the lake and the skates came off – and stayed off. And skis and skates are not to be taken up after a certain age. I think I’m at that age. So it goes.

If I can make it to heaven, who knows what sports are available in that hoped-for destination? (Odd and weird and yet consoling to think in such trusting, child-like terms of what comes after this life. Oh, well. We mortals take our consolation wherever we can find it. At least this mortal does.)

The summer solstice, the astronomical start of the season that for the rest of us started on Memorial Day, is soon to be upon us. It’s summer with an exclamation point. The longest day. I think I’ll plan a summer trip for myself. Maybe I’ll finally take up golf, hang the expense….

My father died on Memorial Day, 1964 at 54 years old. Dead at the brink of only the fifty-fifth summer of his life. I see him putting on skates at the Foxborough camp and, in car coat and work-a-day hat, stepping out on the ice and, after a brief, unsteady lurch, confidently resuming the skill he’d acquired during the Dorchester boyhood on lakes and ponds and flooded playgrounds, skating smoothly up and down. I see him at the beach in summer, sailor cap inverted into a cone to crown his balding head. I see him seated by a small outboard motor steering the small boat that came with the Foxborough camp on Neponset Lake. These were the summers of ’57 and ’58. There were droughts and downpours and sultry or scalding hot July and August days. There was sorrow that always seemed just around the bend. Dad rarely seemed totally happy. Neither, especially, did mom. Can’t or don’t want to get more specific than that. Those nameless sorrows, that darkness, that anxiety.

But I want to welcome and experience and live a bright summer of the kind envisioned in the color pictures of all those home and garden and travel magazines.

If I don’t — well, it’s my own damn fault. I’ll just have to look at the pictures.

Joie de vivre!! Summer’s here! May it linger!

Or, maybe we’ve never truly known summer, not any of us. Maybe only in magazines.

Maybe we just dream of summer….just as we dream in winter of a White Christmas “where treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

So we beat on, with Gatsby, boats against the current

Dreaming of summer. Oh, God, bring me summer!

A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

I have only his Christmas cards now, the message on each beginning, “Dear Wayland!”

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

I remember well the night his pocket was picked by a “slickie boy” pretending to peddle cigarettes in the dark, noisy Seoul night club called OB Cabins. (OB stood for Oriental Breweries, which was a Korean beer.) I’d been to that venuye during previous forays into Seoul and heard a Korean band do a creditable cover of Iron Butterfly’s signature song, “In A Gadda Da Vida, ” drum solo and all.

In lifting his wallet that night, the thief also robbed Chung of his intention to re-pay me for my companionship.

Our friendship began one leisurely summer Sunday on Kanghwa Island, Korea in 1970. I was a Military Policeman assigned to the Army Security Agency (ASA) and further assigned to the ASA operations company on Kanghwa, which sits on Korea’s west coast, carved off from the Republic’s mainland by a narrow channel – a river estuary– and from Communist North Korea by the Han River on its final approach to the Yellow Sea. I and two other G.I.s – fellow M.P.s Jim Barnes from California and Larry Donahue from Boston, if memory serves me – set out to explore the island by jeep. Our duties usually kept us on our small compound and divorced from the real world of our host country. We knew the 116 square mile island was worth exploring, with its temples and farmland.

We stumbled upon the tiny seaside village of We Po-ri at the far northwestern edge of the island. A Republic of Korea (ROK) naval ensign moved us from a restricted area, then chatted us up congenially. We’d stumbled upon a small ROK naval detachment. (The island, being so close to the hostile north was protected on its waterfront by Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines. This Naval detachment patrolled near the smalleer, surrounding islands, always on guard against infiltrators.

The young ensign was the commanding officer. His name – Jin Myung Chung.

I felt the need to know Chung better. Somehow, we hit it off. I’d made no Korean friends to that point in my tour.

Chung was single, well-educated, about two years my senior. I made many overnight trips to his home in Seoul, met his parents and brother, helped them with their English grammar and pronunciation, shared dinner, slept in a spare room. Chung guided me around Seoul, visiting tea rooms, having long talks about life, family, politics, my native Boston, Korea’s future prospects. He planned to marry and have children.

It seemed his best intentions for me were always being thwarted. He invited me to a soccer match. We missed our rendezvous. He planned to motor me up Inchon River aboard a ROK Navy vessel. The boat was out of commission.

Finally, though I knew he had little money and no taste for Seoul nightlife, he insisted on treating me to that outing to OB Cabins, hearing Korean bands cover the Beatles and Iron Butterfly. Then his pocket got picked. He sat patting his pockets frantically.

“Tonight, I am very unlucky,” he said, distressed and humiliated, as I picked up the tab.

I don’t recall our goodbyes. I wrote him after Army discharge. He apparentkly didn’t trust his English for a letter but his Christmas cards contained long notes: “How is your life recently? …Much regret not to write you, wondering if this card will reach you as you may change address since then.” I was, in fact, moving around, state to state. But the cards always found me.

He’d become general manager of maintenance and repair for Honam Tanker Company, a subsidiary of Texaco. He’d married, had a family. He once asked: “Do you have any schedule to visit Korea?” I didn’t.

The Christmas cards stopped. Then, around 2012 came the surprise – an early morning phone call to my Clinton, Mass home. It was Chung. Stunned, delighted to hear his voice, but in the middle of breakfast, facing a long commute to my television reporter job, we chatted barely a minute

Why didn’t I call him back? It was a busy time. But, why?

Now I have a bunch of old home and business addresses. I wrote some. No reply. I want to find him. Is he still alive?

“I can’t think of my military service time without thinking of you,” he wrote in an undated Christmas card.

Same here, Chung. I pray I find you again. I’ll even let you pick up the tab.