Author Archives: drjohnnywow

About drjohnnywow

Artist and writer

Jack Pine

Jack PineI didn’’t know Jack Pine well; our acquaintance lasted a few months. But I was a bit in awe of him, and have often wondered what became of him and what his story was. I learned a lot about how to be a guy from him, which has intermittently been of value in later life. Some of which amounts to: “You are who you say you are; you are what you seem to be, and if someone doesn’’t like it, well fuck ‘em!”

Malcolm and I were puttering at some theatrical sets and suddenly Jack Pine was working with us. I guess that Malcolm had met him a few days earlier. Jack was in his mid twenties, small, wiry, and a large head. He was always in very worn jeans, and jean jacket, and occasionally a workman’s slouch hat. He was cocky, self-assured, and quick, –quick in both movement and wit. He hadn’’t had a haircut in months. Jack had quite a raffish air, a lean and attractive face equipped with a bit of insouciant leer. At a glance you knew –here comes trouble. Tom Waits has a song about a character:– “”I don’’t need no make-up, I got real scars, and I look good without a shirt”.” That song brings Jack Pine to mind, as does the Neal Cassidy character in Kerouac’’s “’On the Road”’. Jack Pine was not an intellectual. He was an interesting guy, but not a reader. He was a Beat with no interest or attachment to the Beat scene. He seemed a sort of ‘loose cannon’ working stiff, having as much fun as he could find on the ground.

Jack was full of stories, none of them verifiable. He had traveled with a circus, he had worked in a carnival, he had been an actor and can be seen in the in some western movie, third from the left near the watering trough, he had built movie sets in the desert, he had lived in a cabin in the mountains, his father knew Ernest Hemingway, his mother ran off with Spanish Gypsies, his aunt played bassoon in an orchestra, when he lived in Mexico he had a cougar for a house pet, he and three friends drove from Newark to El Paso non-stop in a stolen Cadillac, One of his girlfriends dropped him in order to go sleep with Kirk Douglas, and on and on. Who knows? Any or all parts of those sorts of stories might just be somewhat true. What difference did it make? It was all stories well told.

One story has proven to be somewhat verifiable. Jack Pine claimed to be great friends with Titus Moede (Titus Moody, which in French means tight as shit). A series of Vaudeville comedic performers in France used the name, Titus Moede. The current Titus adopted the name from an American vaudeville performer of the early 1900’s. Around 1962 or so, long after Jack Pine had disappeared from my life, I was leafing through a motorcycle magazine and lo and behold there is a picture and a paragraph about Titus, standing there grinning, looking thin and tough next to his Harley chopper. They were appearing in one of those awesomely bad motorcycle gang movies. The article was mostly about the manner in which his bike had been hopped up to 90” and had a sports car carburetor and magneto ignition.

So there was (and still is) a Titus Moede, who has had a long off-hand series of minor roles in many second rate movies. And it is possible that Jack Pine was acquainted with him. Jack knew how to ride a motorcycle. I made the mistake of letting him borrow mine to run to the liquor store, and he didn’’t bring it back until late the next day. And, of course, he had a wonderful story about the two babes he met, and he had to take one to the airport and the other one back home, and they drank all the bourbon while naked in a tub, and so on.

During some nice weather in the early spring he suddenly materialized with an old blue Harley 45. The bike had straight pipes and was wondrously loud. It had seen better days, but would start with 15 or 20 kicks, and as I found out, it would eventually stop. It was a terror to ride, the front springer forks were thoroughly shot, and it wobbled all over the road at low speeds. The front brakes had no cable, so there was no pretense of that brake working.

I had the privilege of taking several spins on various 45’s. Every last one of them was crap. Heavy, slow, vibrating and treacherous. They were cheap for a while, collectors items now. The 45’’s had been made by the millions for WWII and Korea. They were available surplus occasionally, and in the back of magazines like Mechanics Illustrated there would be little classified ads, selling them new, –packed in cosmoline (a horrid industrial grease preservative that would be caked and drooled over equipment to prevent rust.). As an acquaintance of mine found out, the ads were not entirely accurate. A large crate was delivered, and upon opening was there was the motorcycle, with no front forks or wheels. Those parts had to be bought retail and cost far more than was paid for the engine and frame. The engines were also sold separately, and in the 50’’s before motorcycles became common, some guy would approach a rider offering to sell a motorcycle engine. “‘Just like new’, been using it to run a water pump, or air compressor.” The 45’s disappeared from the biking scene very quickly as the Japanese motorcycles proliferated.  I don’t recall seeing a 45 after 1964 or so.

Working on theatre sets involved re-using and modifying previous sets. The humble farmers cottage would become the parapet of a sailing ship, or a castle wall, or a western mountain scene, a mining camp, an urbane cosmopolitan apartment, a woodland scene for a shepherdess, the backdrop for an imaginary orchestra, or the interior of a gypsy trailer. The set designer would provide some drawings, but they were intended to augment his portfolio, and while stylish, the drawings would be either exaggerated or uninformative. We would be working from the sketches, and adapting or modifying hunks of wall with doors or window openings (no glass), adding or subtracting roof lines, and painting brickwork, or wood grain, or mountain views etc. It was often quite crude. There was seemingly no money and very little actual supervision.

We would often be hashing the sets together while the actors are roaming around in their odd daze, memorizing and trying out their lines, and putting tape on the floor to indicate where they were to stand etc. Some of the actors had stage fright weeks ahead of the performance. We would occasionally attend the performances, we could get free tickets, but often we were so sick of the whole ordeal, we couldn’’t bother.  As carpenters and scrubs we were generally beneath notice or conversation with these exalted theatre majors headed for Broadway or Hollywood.

The sets were stored way across town. I suspect some alum had an empty warehouse in South Seattle. Our job, Malcolm, Jack, me, and whatever other help we could roundup, would take a big diesel truck that belonged to the UW motor pool and transfer crap in as large units as we could handle to and from the warehouse. That entire part of Seattle is much different now with the Dome, and the giant cranes and automated shipping of today. I drove a couple of times – scared to death at driving this huge truck. Jack drove several times. Malcolm didn’’t have a driver’s license.

It was heavy work but it usually took a couple of hours. We were often unloading in the evening, but as long as we got the truck back by midnight it was cool. So we would occasionally stop off to see a friend or have a drink or two. I don’t remember ever being checked for ID anyplace but the Liquor Store. In some of the downtrodden taverns of the time if you looked big enough to get on the stool, you were big enough to drink; particularly if you had someone with you that was obviously of age: –this is where Jack Pine came in handy.

Looking back, I would guess that we made 10 or 12 trips together. One of them is truly memorable, but a bit distressing to write about. It is indicative of how times have changed and how informal social institutions come and go. I was 19, headed for 20, at the time, and was as innocent of the physical aspects of human intercourse as could be. In fact, I’m not sure that anyone today less than 40 could possibly be as ignorant of such matters as many of us were. I had lived on a stump farm and had seen animals do it, had seen a porno photo or two, and had stumbled across a couple shagging away behind some bushes. I had seen nude bodies in drawing class and had some rudimentary idea of what went where, but I was quite ill with colitis and terribly shy and had no girlfriends.

One afternoon Jack hollered over the roar of the truck, “”Got any money?”” I had just been paid from a part time job, I probably had something like $50 in my pocket – be like $200 now, perhaps. Jack claimed to have some cash, so he is all hot to go someplace as yet unspecified. He wheeled the truck up James Street to Capitol Hill and heading North on 12th, and then down a treed side street. I had no idea what he was up to. He pulled up at a large rather elegant looking house on a corner. The house dated from the 1890’s or so, the door was dark wood with elegant wood curlicues around the cut glass.

Jack walked right in; he had evidently been there before. Off to the left was a heavy dark wood sort of a bar staffed by a rather gaudily dressed zaftig lady in her late 40’’s. Behind us is a tall, dark, mirrored coat/hat rack. The lady greeted us, very friendly, and wanted to know if we’’d like a drink as she guided us to the entry on the right, which led into a large carpeted parlor style room, with couches, comfy chairs, small tables, ashtrays were everywhere. She guided us to a couch and easy chair with a small table between us, and as I look around it dawns on me, – “My God, we are in a Brothel!”

To my left was a gentleman seated in a couch with a young lady perched on his lap and another lady glued to his side whispering in his ear. Across the room another gentleman nuzzled the neck of a lady draped across his lap. He had a big cigar in his hand hanging over the arm of the chair. The room reeked of tobacco.

The lady that is tending bar comes over to get our drink requests, she was wearing what I suppose was a slip with some lace. There is a small chalkboard on the bar with their limited selection of drinks and tobaccos. The prices were in the range of ‘gulp’. But we ordered the special, which as I recall, was a shot of bourbon and a Rainier.

As we got settled, a few moments went by, and then there is a little parade from behind a curtain next to the bar. Six or seven scantily clad ladies walk out, looking right at us, some smiling broadly. Three or so of them quickly decided that we weren’t worth the hustle, – one in particular seemed to be disdainful. I guess the ladies could be described as utility-grade, none were going to win a prize, but they were height-weight proportionate, and friendly looking. One had nylons with snaps and straps, one wore a girdle/bustier, one had a Japanese kimono robe that she swirled about a bit, revealing some thigh and breast.

I was vaguely familiar with the dancers at The New Paris, thanks to Malcolm’’s affiliation. The strippers seemed rather tough and favored a lot of eye makeup and rouge etc. They were to be viewed on stage and were rather dramatic and scary in appearance up close. The strippers generally were more in the Mae West/Marylyn Monroe body type. This was long before the introduction of surgical enhancement and breast augmentation.

Jack signaled a couple of the ladies from the lineup, and he picked the little one. I was terrified, and eager, and scared, and anxious, and beyond any conversation, but the drill was that we were to spend a few minutes getting acquainted: ““Hi, my name is Katherine. I’m from Philadelphia.” “Where are you from? What do you do? Certainly having some weather, aren’t we?” “Oh! I went to college a few years ago. I tried to play the viola for the symphony.”” And other unlikely patter that goes along with an arm around the neck and a hand on the knee and a bit of discussion about the half hour special today.  Part of the dictum: you are who you say you are.

The drinks are done and we declined to buy drinks for the ladies, and we were guided to the entry counter where a tagged key is acquired. Some cash ($20 comes to mind) was exchanged prior to our being guided down a short hall and up a flight of stairs to a hallway with several doors. In the room is a large old-fashioned bed, dark wood, floral patterns, a small table with a clock, some towels are on a chair, the window has white lacy curtains, and very subdued lighting from a table lamp.

The actual performance was pleasant, exciting even, but perfunctory. I’’m sure that the ladies have seen all manner of neophytes, weirdoes, and tender, and abusive, and friendly, and furtive characters. Once done, we chatted briefly and went downstairs. She promptly disappeared and let me sit and wait 5 minutes for Jack. We went out, climbed in the truck, and once underway, he punched me on the arm and said, “”Hey! How ‘bout that, Man?”

I had read of Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and the salon brothels of France. This didn’’t seem to have much similarity to the glossy version in the novels of Paris. Brothels were sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘Parlor Houses’ and the young ladies within might be called ‘soiled doves’. At the turn of the century, while exploiting and profiting from the Alaskan Gold Rush and the logging, mining and fisheries, Seattle was a wide-open town and there were numerous brothels. In the vicinity of the old Rainier brewery there was a specially build ‘crib’ with 500 girls on duty. The Gospel Mission in central Pioneer Square was built as a high-class brothel. In fair weather the horse drawn carriages would often troll the streets with ladies on display in suggestive plumage, and they would hand out discount coupons or business cards to men on the street.

I guess that I returned half a dozen times. – It was quite expensive for me, and it certainly wasn’’t a salon of intellectual discussion. In the evening it was crowded with gents sitting or standing, smoking cigars, buying drinks and talking politics, and cars, and crude repartee. Before lunch there would be only two or three ladies available, the parlor empty. One evening I was there and a portly gent was treating everyone to champagne, cigars, and girls. He completed some successful business deal or swindle and was blowing what to me was a fortune on good times for everyone.

I felt ashamed for patronizing the place, thought that I was somehow a marked man as a john. Someone might see me, or recognize me. As if I had a vast circle of friends to disgrace. Also I was getting sicker and sicker with my colitis and simply couldn’’t muster the energy to bother.

On my third or fourth visit I selected a tawny young lady. She was from Louisville Kentucky and had a disarming smile. Her teeth were charmingly crooked –and we don’’t often see dental issues like that today because the teeth can be aligned with braces. She was what in those benighted days was referred to, occasionally, as a quadroon. There was the brown paper sack test, – if a person was lighter than a brown bag and had the features for it, that person was white, if person was darker than a brown paper sack and had the racial features, they were black (or in those days a Negro). Thinking back on this young lady that I hardly knew, I realize that she had done something to her hair to get it straight and make it flip up like that near her shoulders. In just a few years she would be able to wear an Afro and drop the pretense of being almost white.

Her name was Charlotte, but she was called Charlie. I was flattered on my next visit, a month or more later, that she remembered me. She thought it was wonderful that I was an artist in college, and she had an uncle in rural KY that painted on boards with different colors of mud. I think of that now and regret the disdain I felt about whatever his efforts may have been. Fifty years later there is considerable interest in ‘primitive’ artists.

At that time I was quite ill with colitis, and I was embarrassed that I had to desperately use the bathroom for a bit. She waited for me in the room, and when I came in –I probably looking a bit pale. – She suggested that if I wasn’’t feeling well, we could just go downstairs and get the money back and use it next time. I soldiered on ahead. She was a lady that went through the motions to make sure a gent had a good time.

I’’m not sure if I went back to the brothel after that or not. It was spring term, and upon completion I dragged back to Suquamish, not feeling well, and slowly recovered on home cooking and general inertia.

In what must have been the last few days of the quarter, I had an odd incident. In one of the classes, an older lady was very talkative and was always involved in some discussion about the Arts and so on. She was perhaps 35”, quite thin, dark long hair that was often in sort of a bun behind the head. She had a vaguely continental air about her. (What hell did we know? She just seemed a bit exotic.) She would usually have a thin brush or pencils or chopsticks stuck into the bun. To me that seemed quite fetching.

There were often older students in the art classes. Individuals that for who knows what neurotic reasons wanted to learn to draw or paint, and suddenly had a time in their life in which they could indulge the fancy. I don’t recall her name exactly, but Nan or Nance floats up in my mind. She was probably 35 or so. I was 19 and a person in their late 30’s seemed a fossilized adult.

I had been helping Barney stretch some canvases a couple weeks earlier. – He was finally going to get started on the class assignments. I happened to mention this to Nan, and she was quite curious about how that is done. Could I show her? A day or two later we went over to her place where she had some stretchers and canvas, and the requisite small hammer and copper tacks, that were used back then, before there were staple guns.

She lived about 20 or 30 blocks from campus. I gave her a ride on the motorcycle. She had never been on a motorcycle before and was laughing and squealing the whole way. It was a two-story house with a porch, similar but a bit larger than Claire’’s house. It was furnished in heavy wood and upholstered furniture – that was probably from a dead parent’s home. There were a few family photos, a pleasant looking husband, and a couple sons that were probably in Junior High. She had taken over a back corner bedroom that had nice light. The studio room was sparse, an easel, a palette/work bench, a stool, and a Swedish Modern couch with a thin pad and the wood turned legs that were so popular at that time. There were some stretcher bars, a big folded hunk of canvas. She went out to her husband’s toolbox and found a carpenter’s square, and we proceeded to assemble and stretch a few canvases.

She suddenly wanted to know if one could work on the canvas before it is primed. Of course there is a long history of that treatment. She wanted me to start a painting on one of the fresh canvases.  “‘Well, why not?”’ Before I could get a canvas in the easel she was stripping her clothes off. She assumed a rather brazen and revealing pose on the couch and before I got very far on the drawing we were involved in some physical foolishness. Since I had been to a brothel, I supposed I had some sort of idea what to do, and I proceeded to saw away at this lady for quite a while. I was quite sick with colitis at the time, but during that hour I was not in pain. The next class session it was as if nothing had happened.

When I got back to classes in the fall I was still sick but feeling better. Nan was busy with a rather sinister looking chap. We nodded at each other. Later, I noticed that older citizens would troll the art school and other ‘cool’ areas in the search for easily available youthful students. This behavior became an epidemic as the hippies flowered.

Both Malcolm and Jack had disappeared when I returned for Fall Quarter. I knuckled down to a full load with some dense classes, and was working nights bussing dishes in a restaurant. I rapidly got sicker and sicker and ultimately just collapsed and was unable to finish the term. I ended up on the living room couch unable to even walk to the bathroom, and was quickly sent to the hospital, where I underwent some serious and life transforming surgery.

When I returned to Seattle, I was tentatively hanging out with some bikers in a couple local taverns. I had a Harley, and that alone was the price of admission. One of the louder and more obstreperous gents in the group had a couple ladies in tow. They contributed to his ability to have a good time because they were not above turning a trick or three, as opportunity or need arose. One of the ladies was Debby or DubDub as in Debby DubDub. She was a rather spectacularly endowed physical specimen and available for a tumble. I really liked her, although I was completely intimidated by her. There was no way I was going to take her on, she just exuded careless rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, two-falls-out-of-three, bare-handed wrestling sort of sex. She was scary but a real traffic stopper. She was loud, low, vulgar and a lot of fun to talk to. Pick a topic and she could get a laugh or a fight out of it. She was also quite a gossip about other’’s capacities, interests, proclivities, and physical equipment. She knew or claimed to know the junk in everyone’s trunk, and was not above discussing it, to either benefit or disgrace the victim.

My Harley1960 copyI was only incidentally acquainted with this group and thoroughly amazed by some of the exploits. Within months, the group became involved in drugs and the scene turned ugly very quickly. The group began to self-identify as members of the Gypsy Jokers. They had stumbled into transporting and selling Mexican speed. They would drive a van down to San Diego. The van was often filled with liberated car parts (stolen-to-order Porsche bits etc) and then driven back with 50# backpacks containing bulk packed pills. The pills would be swiftly sorted into glassine envelopes that stamp collectors used. These were sold to peddlers that spread them all over Seattle.

This led to my leaving the group, as much as I liked a speed tab or two. I watched a couple of the gents carefully nurture some ‘hippie chicks’ into dependency and then turn them out on the street. I thought one of the young ladies was just a wonderful girl; fun, cute, diverting, strung out, and turning tricks in car dates. It was all just too much for me. I was headed into the MFA program and working nights in a machine shop.

I referred to the ladies in the brothel as ‘utility-grade’, which, while true, is a bit unfair. The standards of beauty have changed dramatically. If a movie from the period is watched, the type of facial features, and body types is quite different from today. At a glance, almost none of the women and few of the men on film would be considered worthy of appearance in the films of today.  Also, the population of the world has tripled since the 50’’s and thus the selection –has become ruthless. – There is a much larger pool of specific body types to choose from. There has been a major change in fitness levels within young specimens as well. Surgical modifications of noses, chins, lips, breasts, tummies, butts, and fat reduction procedures are common. The culture overall has changed, with much more emphasis on seductiveness and vastly more opportunities to alter and enhance appearances, performances, and experiences. If we compare a magazine from the 50’’s with a similar issue today, the advertising, ‘editorial’ illustrations and photography are completely different. Popular culture describes a different set of imagery and the changes in behavior and intent defy simple analysis.

When I returned to Seattle in ’65 to re-enroll in the UW there was considerable ferment in the air. The hippie culture was getting started; probably just past whatever might have been the period of integrity. It was well on the road to mass cultural hype and merchandising. At the time, despite my experience  at Reed, I was still infected with the ‘Beat’ virus, and was not fond of the hippie presence, – although there were certainly some attractive and diverting samples of pulchritude on display.

There is a myth about Artists, surrounded by lovely models, and endless opportunities for misbehavior, but this popular delusion is quite an exaggeration. If only it were true. The models that worked in the UW classrooms were carefully selected, and a modicum of professionalism was required. Once they got the gig, they were frequently busy in several sessions a day. They all had private lives elsewhere, and often pursued careers as dancers, or in the theatre, or as restaurant help. I don’t recall any of them being communicative. – Well, that isn’t quite true; when character models were hired they quite often couldn’’t shut up about their grandkids, or the escape across the Czech border, and so on. Character models are older and hired for distinctive or challenging portrait or figure studies.

Artist models are not paid much – $12 to 20 an hour today. Fashion and photographic models make considerably more because they have more extreme physical characteristics and the photographer is using their image for advertising. Several artists in 619 discussed hiring a model for several two-hour sessions. Each of us would have to contribute $10 or so. This episode was similar to herding geese with a stick, and by default I ended up with the model all to myself a couple times. We artists occasionally had to submit a character reference to the models to assure them that we weren’’t kidnappers or stalkers. A model earning $50 for a couple hours posing in the nude is in contrast to an escort that will show up anytime anywhere for direct physical contact sport for $150 an hour.

There are presently several drawing sessions in Seattle and I think I may have found one in Tacoma. A few months ago I attended a session that featured two models. It was quickly evident that a couple of the artists in attendance were simply voyeurs. The models were obviously lovers, and assumed several rather intimate poses. At the end of the session we had a bit of a show-and-tell, and the young lady greatly admired one of my drawings so I gave it to her. After all these decades I have a rather distinctive drawing style, in contrast to the stick figures of the voyeurs.

As Dr. JohnnyWow! I often wear a vest that was made for me back in 64 or so. Tom Coffin, the guy that introduced me to Jan, had a cohort that was in Reed on a wrestling scholarship (if you can imagine) and he was rather muscular for the times, and he wore a tailored formal sort of vest (from Goodwill) to display his torso. It was extremely un-cool at the time to be fit and for guys to display etc.  Today many fitness buffs wear clothing that clearly displays their status.

He had something like a photographic memory and at a party one night recited as if reading from his eyelids, a reasonable facsimile of “The Walrus and The Carpenter” from Alice in Wonderland, and then later some Shakespeare etc.

I had recently acquired about 50# of assorted leather for free – some leather was needed for some straps for the Model A Ford. After the straps were made there were a couple sacks of left over leather. And in the course of hanging out, I met a proto-hippie chick that was into crafts, like leatherwork. I was not weight lifting at the time, although I had for a bit previously, and the young lady, whose name escapes me at the moment – Sue, I think, saw the leather and thought I should have a vest. She made a paper pattern, and laced the leather together in a fondly remembered afternoon. The vest had wooden toggle buttons and leather thongs to close the front, but those disappeared early on. I wore it around a bit, and then it disappeared in all our moving about, but then resurfaced. Then it was put away again, and forgotten, and then it then resurfaced etc. The vest was found again last summer when we switched studios. It fits much snugger now – I’m much bigger and more muscular despite my age and I’ve been told it exaggerates my size because it seems too small. Karen doesn’t like it.

The young proto-hippie, whose name wasn’t Sue now that I think about it, was a lot of fun, a very spirited and spiritual sprite that would get in bed with anyone – oh the joy, ah the fun of it, and aside from the crabs and the penicillin shots, a pleasant memory. We were like kittens in a basket for a long evening.

In early ’59, I had begun to lurk in one of the coffee shops on the Ave. If you went in and bought a couple of espressos early in the evening and stayed on, by dawdling and reading a book or doing homework, they would neglect to gather the cover charge for the evening’s presentation. A couple times a week there would be a poetry reading and often some ‘road warrior’ folk singer would appear between authors. I saw Jesse ‘Lone Cat’ Fuller, and Big Joe Williams, Rambling Jack Elliot, Utah Philips, and others. These recorded, and ‘authentic’ roaming folk artists had no better venue than playing coffee houses for what must have been paltry sums and tips.

One evening featured a poet from Frisco whose name eludes me. He appeared for a long set. His oddly attired yet striking lady friend accompanied him on a cardboard box, a whiskbroom, and a stick. An odd herky-jerky shuffling beat as he read a poem about ‘the black mirror of the blind girl’, ‘the stalking leopard of passion’ etc. The musician, Guitar Red, or some such, hadn’’t shown up. In those dark and dim times, hardly anyone had a phone. – Cell-phones and the constant ability to contact others was far in the future. When the poet was finished, everyone just hung out for an hour or so, and for entertainment. One of the louder regulars, Bernhard, started an argument over at his bench, (the coffee shops of the time were furnished with plank style picnic benches, painted black). Whatever it may have been about, it quickly boiled up into yelling and pushing. He was asked to leave – he was 86’’ed as the phrase goes. He stormed out hollering and threatening.

Bernard was often loud and argumentative. He was a big burly guy, overwhelmed with Marxism and righteousness, which is a point of view not often expressed in our less open society of today. But he knocked his girlfriend on the floor and roughed up some others trying to make his point. I was among strangers at an adjacent bench.

His girlfriend, Sybil, I think, was crying and upset at that bastard. Upon reseating and calming down a bit, she wanted to go home. No one at her table had a car, no one offered to help, but I overheard all this and offered her a ride home on the motorcycle. She looked at me like: “Who was I, this callow youth, offering her a ride on, of all things, a motorcycle?” At best I suppose I was a slightly familiar face. Motorcycles were far from common in those benighted times and she had never ridden on one. She returned to her friends at the table, but several minutes later she came over to see if my offer was still available.

It was a clear and brisk evening, and it turned out that ‘home’ was way out past Northgate. She quickly got chilled and huddled up to me as we rode the 20 miles or so out to a crappy little rental house in a semi-rural area. Once there, she invited me in to warm up. – She was freezing and shuddering. I had my leather jacket and was inured to all manner of weather.

Her roommates and friends were inside sipping tea and listening to some saxophone jazz on the record player (lp’s had just become common, and this was before stereo).  The tea water was on and I was invited to sit on the couch and have some tea with these ever-so-cool people, several of which I had noticed on the Ave.

I sat on the couch and she brought some jasmine tea in big mugs, and a blanket. She slipped her feet under my thigh, brought her knees are up under my chin, and put a hand down the neck of my jacket and the other hand in the unzipped front of the jacket. Her hands were icy cold. Her head was leaning against mine. She is freezing cold, and she proceeded to tell her friends all about Bernhard; the episode, his many faults, how she hates him and on and on for what seemed like forever. She, or maybe it was the blanket, reeked of cigarettes and cats. Eventually, I had to pee, and it was time to get on the road. It was an odd episode. She was huddling next to me, sucking up my body heat, all the while talking endlessly about some brute that used to provide body heat. However I recall being quite happy to have a real woman’s body pressed to mine.

A few days later our paths crossed at the coffee shop and she sort of thanked me and sort of apologized for the evening. The next time I saw her she was once again hanging on Bernhard. I became nodding acquaintances with one of the other couples. He was supposedly fluent in 3 languages and was headed for New York to be a translator at the UN, and she was writing a novel, and the little bit I read reminded me of Willa Cather with a bit of Dos Passos, because I had just been reading those authors. Her last name was Burnet. I remember that because she had a bit of wordplay about her last name, – she was a brunette and her last name was Burnet.

Martin’s Daughter

Martin’s Daughter

Episode #1

In the gym the other day, putting along, I’m suddenly told that a fellow gym-rat was arrested a couple days previous.

Martin and I have crossed paths in the gym many times for over a decade. I am not on a time clock, so my hours vary while his are set by his job, so it is just coincidental when we meet. He is more devoted to aerobic exercises and is usually across the gym plodding away on the parked vehicles dedicated to cardio. We chat in passing.

In the distant past he was a high school football player and rode the bench at a local university. He was neither big enough nor fast enough to be a real player. He was briefly part of the track team, involved in shot put, hammer toss, and other strength events, but again, he was not big enough to be a contender.

A while back we were bustling out of the gym at the same time, and he started some conversation: “Why am I hurrying? My daughter is supposed to pick me up, so I’ll be half an hour standing around out front! My damned car is in the shop and she is my taxi driver.” We walked onto the parking area and lo and behold there she was, standing next to her car. Martin said ‘Come on and meet her!” At the car we exchanged greetings and a bit of guffaw talk – “Well, now where do we go, pops?”

I’m 65 or so at this event, and somewhat beyond a refined connoisseurship of young females. My view is superficially philosophical; lovely, charming, and a decorative element viewed from a suitable distance. She seemed to be 16 or so, pleasantly endowed, casually dressed, friendly, and outspoken: not a shy wallflower. She’s not going to win a prize in a beauty contest, but she is certainly attractive and vivacious. Martin had said that she is a bit of an athlete, in soccer and basketball, as I recall. I suppose she wished that she weighed 25# less, but she has a nice little body and fits her jeans. In her next decade she will be setting admirers aflame, as she is a splendid invitation to some young ardent to have a rolling romp.




sylvie - lookalike

sylvie – lookalike


Months later the two of them are repeatedly in the gym together. She was very awkward at the exercises. She had never done them before and her Dad is talking her through some lightweight reps. She was game, but really not interested. She and I had a few chances to chat; nothing of interest or memorable, just a bit about gyms, and about how heavy is heavy, and we complain about the damned music.

A couple years later I was shopping in Safeway and she came over and started chatting with me. I know so few people that I don’t expect to meet or recognize anyone on my furtive little foraging expeditions. Out of context I was slow to place her, but she referenced her Dad and suddenly I knew who she was. She was newly enrolled in a local junior college, and Martin had given her the family grey Toyota Corolla. She is living at home, and she has a little job in the cafeteria, and she finds some of the classes boring etc etc. I’m standing there listening, thinking about whether to buy mushrooms, and idly admiring her animation. I hadn’t given her a moment’s thought since we last met in the gym. I don’t recall that Martin had mentioned her for many months.

Weeks later, in the gym, Martin and I crossed paths and he says: “Sylvie tells me she bumped into you at the store!” What can I say? “Yeah, we were doing some shopping.” Mentally I’m wondering, what the hell, I’m becoming part of the family? Why am I a topic of dinner table conversation? Martin and I proceed to chat about her lack of interest in her studies and he goes into a bit of a tirade about her choice of boyfriends. This is the time-honored topic of ‘youth today’. This is in stark contrast to the perfectly sensible life in our youth.

A year or so later Martin told me that Sylvie has dropped out of college, not quite completing the Associate Degree in Marketing or some such. He is disappointed, but optimistic. She will go back. She will wise up once she gets some experience in the real world.

“It’s that damned boyfriend!” He comments.

“What? The Musician?”

“Oh no! That was long ago, she’s had several since then. A couple of them were damned nice guys, but of course, she dumps them and takes up with these losers.”

“Well, don’t judge them too harshly. Think of what was probably said about you at that stage of life. Dumb, drunken, vulgar, uneducated, low-class failing athlete with a big ego and a hard on. Think about how your wife’s parents felt when you took their darling daughter out in that ratty coupe you had.”

“Yeah, I suppose I didn’t seem much of a prospect to them at the time.”

“At the time? What kind of a prospect are you now? How did you ever cajole her into marrying you? Was she out of her mind? Was she so desperate that you started to look good? Was she simply overcome with lust? Did you drug her? Look at you now! What on earth could have prompted her to settle on an unlikely victim like you? And then to stay with you all this time…an amazement! Does you wife have no sense of self esteem?”

“Jeeez! Thanks for the compliments!”

“Well, I’ve met your wife and I’m sure she looks in the mirror and wonders if she couldn’t have done a lot better. To women, men are like busses, if they miss one, there will be another in a few minutes.”

I was giving him a bad time; his wife is quite striking – not a beauty, really, but she was working as a real estate agent (before the crash). Climbing out of her Volvo in a power suit in full regalia she was quite a contrast to him in his torn t-shirt and gym shorts.

Martin & wife

Martin & wife

“Damn, you’re just full of cheer-up today. I just wish Sylvie would find some guy that seems reasonable. At the moment I wish she would find a decent job as well.”

“What is she doing? Isn’t she living at home? How good a job does she need to have? Does he work? Are they co-workers?”

Sylvie was working the breakfast and lunch shift as a waitress in a national chain middle-class restaurant located in many malls. The menu features 24-hour breakfasts, a selection of burgers and fries, and fried chicken for diners seated in orange plastic clad booths. She wears a uniform. This is basic waitressing, not a genteel Food Server of elegant dining. She is on minimum wage and tips, and works 6 hours a day and thus has no benefits.

“No, he’s on unemployment or some damned thing. He shows up in raggedy clothes, and off they go to hear some band or see a movie or whatever.”

“Sooner or later she’s gonna move out, and then you will have no idea what she is up to. You will miss the excitement. Without her in the house you will have damned little to complain about. Just think, 150 or 200 years ago, you and the missus would have had to find her a husband, arrange a marriage, provide a dowry perhaps. And then her miserable lot in life would be your fault. Nowadays a girl has to find her own way and make her own decisions and you are out of the loop. At this point you are superfluous.”

“Jeeezuz, I’m sure glad I talked to you today, you have really cheered me up!”

“She is not a kid anymore, and as a parent you can offer a bit of gentle advice here and there, but it is no longer the time in life in which you can boss her around. You are no longer the stern parent that can threaten or cajole – you can’t use the longstanding military technique: ‘I can’t make you follow directions but I can make you wish that you did.’ She is a pre-programmed missile at this point, your example and instructional guidance has been installed, but vagaries in the wind could send her off course. Relax, watch the fireworks.”

“Awww. For Christ’s sake, don’t cheer me up like that.”

It was an amusing exchange, and lasted all of 3 minutes. I have probably improved it in re-writing, but that was the drift of a parental exchange regarding the foibles and fates.

A year or so has gone by since that exchange. We’ve not had much to say about Sylvie. I have coincidentally driven by her place of employment several times, but not given her a moment’s thought. There is no temptation to stop in for a meal. I don’t eat in places like that. If I’m going to eat a meal out in the world I will find a little Vietnamese place for Pho, or a little bar-b-que joint or some other treat. Burgers and fries don’t interest me. I haven’t had a French fry in years, I think they are nasty, and wonder that such food items came to be a treat or even considered food at this point of human evolution. In my youth, in Suquamish, we grew our own potatoes and would dice a few after lunch and chill them in ice water all afternoon, peels and all, blot them dry, and plunge them into brand new screeching hot oil in a wire basket and sear them until dark brown on the edges. Dump them out of the basket onto paper towels, blotting the oil off and then toss the fries gently with salt and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. That’s the way to do it.

If I were to stop at this national chain restaurant, she might not be on duty, and if she were, wouldn’t that be a bit odd? For me to go in and have this not-quite-a-stranger serve me: wouldn’t that seem a bit awkward? Am I to expect better or worse service? Would we have to chat? And what would we chat about – me the old fart, and her working as the server-slave? How much should I tip for the overly friendly service? Should I be generous, or strictly 20%? It never occurred to me to eat there, but now that I think about it, I find the prospect a bit troubling.

Long ago, I frequented Dixie’s Diner – a family run little joint of a sort that hardly exists anymore. I, along with others, became a familiar face through repeated refueling pit stops. I was on my way to the University on my Harley around 9 a.m. and the diner would not be very busy. It was cheap and convenient to stop in and get a breakfast platter. Upon entry, Dixie would exclaim: “Well, there you are! Been expecting you! The special today is cheese omelet with grits! Can we get you some coffee to start with?” I would sit at the counter and wolf it down. They were only open till about 1:30. Tom, the husband-cook liked to go fishing, and they made enough money on the morning trade to take afternoons and evenings off. They would often serve fish for breakfast instead of sausage or bacon: a slice of salmon or sole filet. It was a great place to eat. Their mission was to fatten us up. When they found out I was a college student, he would occasionally tip me a wink and slip me a little extra. Tom would say something like: “I made a mistake on that order a minute ago, the guy wanted bacon instead of sausage patty, maybe you could use this.” He’d throw a couple slices of bread over it and wrap it in white butcher paper, no charge.

During that period I looked forward to breakfast every day. In the evening I would get a ‘free’ meal at the up scale restaurant where I was bussing dinner dishes. The crappy ‘free’ meal was part of the minimum wages the hired help received if a person worked more than 4 hours. I only had to buy one meal a day. All the while I was plagued with my colitis and several months later I finally collapsed.

So it seems one thing for a customer to become a regular and have Dixie or Tom hail you upon entry and then add some strawberries to the pancake stack out of a spirit of generosity and ‘doin’ ya’ right’; and wandering into a sleek food service emporium and distract the waitress with off-site familiarity. A waitress has to set a certain pace. There is a smooth groove earned by repetition, and a boundary of social interaction cultivated by repetitive and essentially vapid and meaningless cordial scripted skills. To have a familiar from the outside world appear within the theater of labor could be disruptive. It could throw the worker’s rhythm askew, perhaps interfere with the smooth progression of frozen product from microwave to hot plate to tray to table to gastro-intestinal processing. A sudden lack of attention could reduce efficiency, and that might be reflected in the size of the tip. The display of attention and/or affection to a member of the family or friends may make others feel slighted and less than welcome. Service and attention should be evenly distributed. Just as the portion size is standardized, so must variations in the allocation of faux earnestness be within limits.

The food service facility is located just off Interstate I-5. Diagonally across the parking lot is a large hotel/motel/casino with a huge sign. It frequently features bands from memory lane. Some patrons stop in the food service facility because it is considered to be in some way better and a bit less expensive than the fare at the hotel/motel/casino. The travelers frequenting the rooms for overnight stays are on their way someplace: perhaps doing some business from their ‘office’ in their official capacity as Road Warriors (sales representatives). Pilots and flight crews also stay over at this temporary housing facility because it is out of the flight path and reasonably quiet. There is a shuttle bus that will deliver them to and fro. These types of patrons are prime restaurant customers as they are well paid and that often tip well, in part because they can write off the expense.

Through a series of staff health care incidents, coupled with her accumulated months of seniority, Sylvie was moved to the lunch-dinner shift. This is a bit of a plum because dinner orders are larger and the tips tend to be more generous. It also means that she doesn’t get home until 8 or 9 in the evening. As a young lady, she occasionally stopped to have a drink or snack or participate in some event on the weekend. She can wander over to the casino, drawn by the noise, bright lights, and playful atmosphere. She doesn’t know anything about gambling; there isn’t even a deck of cards at home. Sometimes she gets home after midnight, to the consternation of Martin and his wife.

She had been given the family gray Toyota Corolla that dates from the early ‘90’s and had over 250,000 miles on it. A couple of years ago, when I last saw it, there was a broken taillight lens held on with fraying duct tape, and the front quarter panel that had some bodywork done was faded – the repaint was done very thinly. I gather it was still running rather well, but there were heater/AC problems, one door had to stay locked, and the window riser was erratic. It was an old car and falling apart. It also needed tires and a brake job.

Just before Thanksgiving Sylvie went out and bought herself a new Toyota coupe. Martin and his wife, the adults, are amazed and appalled. She didn’t ask for advice, or permission, and as far as they were aware she had very little credit. She had a credit card and a bank account, but they assumed that she was chronically near broke. How the hell was she going to pay for that car, and the insurance? She has been carried as an additional driver on their insurance. These are the issues that come to the mind of a parent.

“What the hell does she think she is doing?”

In the course of a family discussion, it seems that she simply put down $2,500 in cash and financed the rest. The car was a dealer demo vehicle with a thousand miles on it. The parental units are appalled!

“What were you thinking? My God! Where did you get $2,500? What are you doing? How does a waitress get that much cash? By waitressing you got $2,500?”

Sylvie is taken aback at her parent’s outrage about how she spends her money. She explains that she has been doing some occasional part time work in the evenings. She does some catering and provides special services for selected clients. This reply simply stirs up more questions and unanswered concerns. Just exactly what sort of ‘special services’? What ‘service’ could she possibly provide that would enable her to gather several, many, thousands of dollars?

On the one hand: it is none of their business. After all she is 22 or 23, and employed. On the other hand she is living rent free in their basement ‘guest’ room that is complete with bathroom and shower, and the adjacent ‘wreck’ room has a couch, refrigerator, TV/stereo, pool table, dart board etc. Because of her shift work, they only see her in passing as their paths cross. But, after all, Sylvie is their precious angel/daughter. Their son is prospering back east, with wife and child.

At this point I have set the stage and we will have to enter a realm of conjecture. My information is sketchy and third-hand, but the volume and temper of the dialogue reportedly started rising rapidly when she showed up with her new red Toyota the day before Thanksgiving. I suspect she was expecting congratulations from the proud parents of this independent daughter as they begin to see evidence of her prosperity and wise purchasing decision. Instead they are shocked at her furtive and un-discussed extravagance. An interrogation into her earnings ensues. I have no clear idea how much an evening waitress in a middle class feed trough may make, but a single person that is not paying rent and has few other expenses could afford to have a car. The $2,500 down payment seems to arouse some suspicion as few of the working class can save that much.

I gather that there were some raised voices, but she went to work on Thanksgiving and got back home about 11 p.m. The customers had a choice of turkey or ham and it was a busy night. The parents are waiting for her to arrive. The mother is upset for no particular reason, and Martin is pacing around. When Stacie shows up, at last, the interrogation begins. What the hell is going on? Why is she so late? Where has she been? Why didn’t she just get the brakes fixed and put some tires on the old car? How did she get $2,500 dollars? And who are the ‘selected clients’ and what sort of catering and special services do these people receive? How much does that extra work pay? Is this through the restaurant? Since when does that joint do catering? Is she gambling in that damned casino? Is she selling drugs? What is going on?

Sylvie was a taken aback at this aggressive tone of questioning. She got a bit upset at this irrational snooping and prying on the part of her parents. About midnight she is near tears and becomes exasperated and furious. They have begun the inquisition and she is basically caught off guard and unarmed. In an exasperated rage she loudly gives them the truth. The truth, which she has been keeping from them, becomes her final weapon.

In one of his wry novels, Kurt Vonnegut discusses the power of truth, and his suggested operating motto was, “If you don’t truth me, I won’t truth you.” Thus the minor lies and delusions that propel an easier path through life may be maintained. All of us live with our illusions. Our views of life on this planet are thoroughly self-serving and we shelter our beliefs, ludicrous as they may be.

“I occasionally do some escorting!” Sylvie reveals. The mother is unfamiliar with this term. Martin is a bit worldlier – not as a participant; but men, with their lurid imaginations and endless curiosity are more familiar with the underground trade that revolves around pornography and the women mysteriously available for extraordinary renditions of sexual participation.

Sylvie is working in the time honored but scandalous sex trade. I am told that escorts often do not categorize themselves as whores or prostitutes. An escort is not patrolling cars in some unfortunate part of town. An escort may be a call girl, or a concubine, or just very discretely provide services on limited availability. Some escorts advertise on-line or in the back pages of certain publications.

Upon this revelation, Mother burst into tears and shrieks, and Martin blew up into a rage. He didn’t hit either of them, although he may have threatened to do so. Instead he started roaring and yelling and threw the dining table across the room, breaking a chair, and shattering the big sliding glass door. A picture careened off the wall destroying the frame and broke the glass. A vase toppled and was in pieces. The fresh floral bouquet was in disarray on the floor, and the carpet was soaked. He stormed around the house upset. Mother and Stacie cowered, holding each other crouched in a corner. Stacie grabbed her cell phone and dialed 911. Both of the ladies were terrified. They had never seen Martin in such a state.

Out in the country – the rural suburbs – if there is an emergency and the cops are called it can take an hour for them to arrive. When you may not need the cops they show up in 5 minutes. As the police came upon the scene, Martin was calming down, still upset, but rather spent. The police sized up what seemed domestic violence in progress. They felt that they arrived just in time to prevent a more serious physical altercation. It is likely that had they come half an hour later all three would be crying and holding each other and trying to establish some sort of reconciliation. However the cops showed up while he is still enraged. He was shocked and angry with Sylvie. He was mad at his wife – she should have done something! She should have suspected! She should have had a talk with Sylvie! Who knows what she should have done? Whatever she should have done she didn’t do it! And he was mad at himself for being fooled, cuckolded in effect. He was damned angry with the men that have casually paid his daughter who-knows-what for sex. Who are these monsters? How dare they! His sweet little angel child has been defiled and abused and degraded by these anonymous bastards!

The police decided to take him in – he spent the night in jail on a domestic dispute charge. In the minds of the officers this would reduce the risk of violence, and give the ladies time to recover from his unusual behavior that has been amply demonstrated by this outburst. The cops attempted to set the dining table upright, but it is broken, and twisted out of plumb. Martin was put in the back of the squad car with nylon wrist retainers and hauled off. Mother must go down and authorize his release the next day.

Several weeks have passed. I gather from my informant that Martin was released the next day and was required to enroll in an Anger Management course. Martin and his wife are suddenly involved in a Family Counseling program. After an initial session, Sylvie declined the invitation to participate with the parents in what she feels is their relationship problem.

Sylvie is in the process of moving out. She feels that she has been disgraced and humiliated. She feels this entire episode was uncalled for. After all, it is none of their damned business what she does. Her parents may suddenly care deeply about her decisions, but they never inquired or gave a damn what she did with her boyfriends – that were, in her opinion, all losers. She had a lot of fun with the boys and showed the boyfriends a good time when it seemed merited, and then went her own way. She has no plans of continuing in the ‘escort career path’. She considers it an opportunity to associate with a better class of men than she will ever meet otherwise, and also an opportunity to earn some real money. With proper precautions she believes that this can be safe and sane, and the job can be occasionally pleasurable. It is an admission of a fall from the grace of presumed innocence, however this pose of amateur unfamiliarity with versions of sexuality is a difficult role to play for young adults today. Thanks to the social transformation of pornography and contemporary entertainment it would be difficult to remain ignorant of the general scope of human activities even if the varieties have not been practiced.

She has become somewhat acquainted with a couple other ladies in the trade, and has considered leaving the waitressing job soon. The restaurant job provided her with an opportunity to try the escort job, but she feels she can meet enough paying, well-behaved and respectful clients in other ways. She insists upon meeting potential clients in advance to get acquainted: a coffee date, for instance. She also elicits references and attempts to verify employment etc. She assesses their personality and potential interests to establish an informal contract of expectations. She is never out of reach of her cell phone.

The foregoing is reconstructed from a third party intermediary. I feel a bit diffident about contacting Martin regarding this episode. I’ve not been to his house although his cul-de-sac is familiar. Months from now it may be easier to get a coherent story after the dust settles. Each participant will calm down and review their own responses and develop a comfort level within their role. Each will have their regrets, and reflect upon the correctness of their views and the appropriateness of their responses. In the longer run, they will re-unite as a family, the parents will come to silently accept her chosen activities, and next holiday may be more familial. Sylvie may change her mind and she may drift away from this ‘career’ decision.

Career Review

In the long run, an escort is time-bound. A young lady in her 20’s can sell her youth for perhaps a decade. The prime product is youth – ladies in their 40’s or 50’s are not in great demand. Older men have a vampire-like interest in engaging young lovers. Younger men want to have sex with members of their peer group that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Other cultures and other circumstances create other opportunities. In civilized Amsterdam there are the Fokken twins, now in their early 70’s and still working part time as prostitutes after 50+ years in the service of mankind. They estimate that they have each had over 250,000, perhaps 300,000 customers each, thus far. One has ‘retired early’ due to arthritis, the other continues part time because their state provided retirement allotment is insufficient.

In Germany, Molly Luft is the self-proclaimed fattest prostitute. She weighed around 385#, but is now reduced 100 or so. She runs a ‘discount’ brothel and has prospered for several decades. The brothel has a punch card, and after 10 visits a customer receives a free trick. She has been in the business over 30 years and estimates her personal tally at about 100,000 clients; the business is near a million clients.

“Smoky” Forrest

Almost exactly 50 years ago to the day, I recall sitting in a not-very-elegant restaurant at a Formica corner table with ‘Toppy Tom’ and ‘Smoky’ Forrest. We were sharing a platter of crab cakes, and having a few drinks. The restaurant was noted for serving strong drinks and greasy food. It was located a block up the street from the tavern the bikers favored. The restaurant would let us in if we appeared sober and behaved appropriately. We were not to be intimidating the regular neighborhood clientele.

We were discussing motorcycles. A mutual scoundrel had recently acquired a rigid frame, sprung hub Triumph, partially disassembled, and it is stored in a shed out in the boonies. I had a Model A Ford Pickup and would be able to do the hauling, and perhaps some of the mechanical work.

‘Toppy Tom’ was a large framed rough-cut character, probably 6’6” and 290#. He had served some time in the slam and was on parole but he was working on a city funded sidewalk repair crew: jackhammer, concrete, pick and shovel labor. ‘Smoky’ Forrest was 5’10”, wiry, a smooth talker, and looked a bit like Kirk Douglas with a wolfish grin. He had been in the Army briefly as some sort of fireman and had recently been fighting forest fires.

Smoky Forrest

Smoky Forrest

Drugs were just starting to appear as recreational alternatives at this time. Both ‘Toppy’ and ‘Smoky’ were casually headed for ‘Speed’ dependency problems. The three of us were cruising fast, talking 90 miles an hour. There had always been some ‘speed’ around, but suddenly it was readily available, and several of the bikers were making spending money transporting and selling packets to riff raff that actually did the peddling. The bikers had somehow gotten into the supply stream of the time. Months later our little casual group was invaded and dominated by heavy-duty guys from California and the drug business became quite serious. Around then, I parted company with the bikers. I’ve written elsewhere about that, but briefly, several of the Californians were recruiting ‘hippie chicks’ through grass and speed and acid or whatever, and the girls would soon be turning tricks in order to keep their personal supply flowing.

Janet, our waitress, was a pleasant looking lady, late 20’s, blond hair with 3” of dark roots, snug fitting white blouse unbuttoned midway, a tight skirt, and nurse’s shoes. Very friendly with the customers, eager to get us drinks and another platter of crab cakes. ‘Smoky’ was quite taken with her and was in speedy dope-fueled small talk. Soon we learned that she was from Idaho, and had her GED. She had worked at this joint for almost a year; she will be catching a bus to her apartment after 8, and her cat will be hungry etc. It was just mindless getting acquainted sort of pleasant chatter while she was doing her job, hustling meals and plates to her dozen or so tables.

Janet - waitress

Janet – waitress

We were 3 or 4 drinks down along with a couple platters of crab cakes when it was time to settle the tab. I reached for my wallet to get out my share – probably about $7 in ’62, but Smoky said, “Put that away, I’ll get this one, you can buy me drinks some other time.” He took his wallet out of the leather jacket and put down a $50 (serious money at that time, wages were about $3.25 an hour; $1 would get 4 hamburgers at Dick’s Drive-In). He laid the wallet on the table with two additional 50’s showing. When Janet came to pick up the money she couldn’t miss the additional flash.

Smoky decided to pounce. “What are you doing later, maybe we could go someplace. Have some fun!”

“Oh, gee, I don’t know about that.” she said. Upon her return with the change she slipped him a little piece of paper with the many dollar bills – it simply said Janet and a phone number.

He gave her a big wave as we exited, and once outside he was joyous. “Damn! I’m going to have fun tonight! Gonna get me a pint of bourbon and make a call!” Later in the week he felt compelled to violate the Gentleman’s Code: “A gentleman never tells.” He went on a bit about what an energetic romp Janet provided and what a great time it was. They had taken a shower together, soaping each other generously, and went to bed with her hair in a towel turban, and rutted, and bucked and shrieked and roared. He insisted that I take her number. My memory is that the joy rate was $20, and he considered it money well spent. “She asked about you, but she didn’t want ‘Toppy’ to call.”

I didn’t get around to contacting Janet. I’m from Nome Alaska and dislike the water, and the idea of getting into a shower with some lady just didn’t appeal to me at all at the time. Also, I was silently and invisibly quite ill with colitis.

But we may envision this episode in Janet’s life as a somewhat similar storyline for Sylvie. In absence of fact, we can make up any story that suits us. Martin does not seem to wear the mantle of severe repressive morality. I have no idea what the parent’s individual sex lives may have consisted of, or the nature of their married relationship. Some men brag about past exploits and depending upon the conversational context. These tales may be rather vulgar and explicit. We are not acquainted with Martin or his family members to the extent that such matters would be discussed. Our conversations are limited to gym talk and comments on the weather.


If we consider the escort ‘career’ that Martin’s Sylvie has entered we quickly find that regular appointments for an hour are in the range of $150 to $250. Her $2,500 down payment may have involved as few as 10 dates at $200 each. Should she attempt to earn $50,000 annually it would amount to about 250 sexual incidents per year. Many long marriages go from beginning to end with far less sexual content than that.

An article about the Nevada Brothels mentions that the ‘soiled doves’ consider 10 to 20 episodes a day to be an informal limit. In other locations the pace can be dozens a day. Half the money goes to management of the ‘parlor house’. If these ladies were to work 200 days annually, this would amount to more than 1,000 sexual incidents a year. Many incidents don’t last an hour, and not all services are charged at $200; some are less and others significantly more.

The TV personality and founder of the ‘Moral Majority’, Dr. Jerry Falwell, has said: “Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them.” Some of Sylvie’s clients may be married, but this would be irrelevant to her role in providing services. People generally, and men in particular, demonstrate widely varying interest levels in physical expressions of sexuality in the course of a lifetime. In adolescence and young adulthood the species is in a peak period of ‘hot and bothered’, sometimes referred to as the age of “testicles in tennis shoes”.

On the other side of the age spectrum: decades ago I was acquainted with a person I thought of as an elderly gent – I now realize he was in his early 60’s and recently widowed, hardly a old fossil. He was regaling us with a tale of his dating life. He mentioned to the silver fox he was courting that he was not eager get involved sexually until they were better acquainted. She replied, “Yeah, well I’m not that eager myself, I’ve already had my sex for the year, would you like to sit and watch some TV?” This was in the Spring of that year, but in the November of their lives.old geezer

In my teens, I was far too shy, and then far too ill to fully participate socially. I had been a shy loner, and after my operation that personality fault continued until I got entangled. Because of my lack of discussable experience, and my uncertainty about what my role as a parent ought to be, I realized that I had next to nothing to say to my children regarding sex or related matters. My parents had never discussed such matters with me, and I continued the tradition.

We don’t have a clue regarding Martin and his wife’s instructions, rules, or information provided to Sylvie. There is some basic sex education provided in the schools, but I don’t know what that amounts to. It is probably basic discussions provided in a neutral tone through charts, diagrams, anatomical roadmaps, and basic health information regarding STD’s, condoms, and avoiding pregnancy. To paraphrase James Thurber: ‘when one is confronted with the actual sex act a schematic of the reproductive organs is as valuable as a map of medieval trade routes.’

Many states – the ‘Red States’ – have no sex education aside from encouraging total abstinence, and as a result these states have alarming rates of teen pregnancy, STD’s and HIV. In my high school, in the ‘50’s, around a quarter of the girls would drop out every year due to pregnancies. Often the boys involved were expelled as well. Guys were tossed off the football team, which to some was a fate worse than death. A few were able to get a couple of girls knocked up. Frequently a quick marriage resulted; the boy was 16 or 19 and the girl 13 to 17. Often the young ladies were involved in what today would be considered statutory rape with trolling military guys. This unfortunate and endlessly repeated comedy was simply cause for a shrug and headshake: just business as usual.

I’m far from certain what a parent should provide. At some point it isn’t a parent’s business. The young people need to get acquainted, go out and have fun with friends, and once out of sight they are out of parental control. A parent doesn’t know what goes on and doesn’t know the local moral codes of various social groups. Within a school there are various tribal alliances and each has it’s own behavioral strictures.

I taught briefly at Garfield High School in Seattle in the early ‘60’s. This school had, and still has, a predominantly black student body. The classrooms frequently had several pregnant young women. They were not expelled, and as near as I could tell, there were no shotgun weddings. The culture of the times seemed to be accepting – the girls might finish high school as single parents. I started out appalled, but soon I was indifferent as well.

Episode #2

Steven & Heather

In the mid-80’s my beloved ‘black iron’ gym closed and I began to frequent a different gym – I was still employed. The new franchised gym was in the vacant space of a deceased supermarket. It was a large gym, mostly filled with cardio equipment, stationary bicycles, stair-steppers etc. In my previous gym we devotees of the ‘chapel of black iron’ wore very ratty workout gear, torn t-shirts, sawed off jeans. The new gyms were an outgrowth of the burgeoning fitness craze and the lean bodies were often clad in colorful body suits that were snug and revealing. The young lady’s body suits were combined with a one-piece dancer’s leotard or camisole over the top. In the crotch area this resembled a thong. Often the young ladies appeared to be as colorful as tropical fish. One of the young ladies in regular attendance was called ‘The Thong Goddess’ by some of the guys. They would suddenly show some enthusiasm for cardio by operating a machine behind her to watch that trim little bottom, while they fantasized about the unspeakable acts they would inflict upon her preciousness if only they could get up the nerve to speak to her.

Steven was one of the big guys in that gym, heavily muscled and loud. We, the big boys, were relegated to the far wall that was lined with weights. He was a freelance construction worker and a housing boom was on! He was in his early 40’s, I guess, and a talkative character in an uneasy marriage – his wife was a well-built blonde, a striking figure, and also loud and outspoken. I saw her a couple of times, she would stalk in wearing high heels and start discussing the family issues in public, loudly. I got the impression that they rather enjoyed arguing and may have enjoyed the making up even more than the argument. When he was around we soon learned more about their family than was necessary: their vacations, their car problems, their damned son, their lazy daughter, etc.

That year, during summer vacation, the 14-year-old son was going to a sailing camp at Lake Tahoe. The daughter, Heather, was about 11 perhaps, and was going to stay a month with an aunt at a ranch in New Mexico. Steven thought this was a great arrangement. The New Mexico Aunt’s family were strict Mormons, and had horses and livestock. Maybe they could get some work out of the girl.

Steven’s wife had decided to clean and paint the kid’s bedrooms while the kids were gone. There had been continual arguments about the kid’s messy bedrooms, particularly Heather’s bedroom. Steven was enlisted to help move the furniture, and do some cleaning and painting. The son was returning first and that room went smoothly.

Heather’s bedroom was a disaster with moldy food, dirty clothes, stuff scattered everywhere. She had been told that they were going to re-paint the room: she had picked the colors, under duress. An attempt was made to organize books, magazines, shoes, clothes, and plush animals. Which clothes still fit? What should be washed? What should be tossed? There were bags of crap. It progressed a few hours at a time with much muttering about the unsightly and unsanitary hoard shoved under the bed and tossed in the closet.

Heather - ballerina

Heather – ballerina

Steven would get home from working at construction, pause at the gym to lament his fate, and then haul trash. He finally began to move the furniture to the center of the room, a bookshelf, a desk, a couple of chairs – one of which had been invisible in the clutter – and the bed. The bed needed to be dismantled, the box spring and mattress were to be set out in the hallway, and the bed frame knocked apart. Under the mattress a surprise was found. There were several recent porno magazines of the sort that were readily available behind the counter in franchised ‘Stop & Rob’ stores that have gas pumps out front. Magazines with titles such as Purely 18, Live Young Girls, Lollypop Teens, Finally Legal.

Steven is pole-axed, just stunned to find these in his precious daughter’s bedroom, and his wife is aghast and shocked and soon in tears. The daughter was just beginning to develop breasts; the mother and daughter have had a little talk about the onset of menses. Suddenly here are these quite explicit magazines with attractive young ladies with shaved pudenda and coyly posing – showing it all, playing with dildos, and performing sloppy blowjobs and having sex with men that have enormous cocks.

Suddenly the parents in her bedroom realized that their innocent little daughter may not be innocent – she might be physically innocent, but intellectually she is aware of sexual activities that are portrayed as normal, but some of which are outside the realm of what the parents have engaged in. They are in shock. What are they to do now? What are they to say or do when she returns? In their mind, she might have played doctor, or a game of show-me-yours, but the magazines are basically a how-to manual for dildos, blowjobs, muff diving, anal intercourse, and abusive activities with gags and handcuffs, for instance.

In the gym Steven was quite vocal on the issue. Who would give such pornography to a little girl? Why would this be circulating among her classmates? She can’t buy this stuff: it is behind the counter! Who is buying the magazines and passing them out to 5th graders? And of course, he has to discuss the size of the dicks displayed – Steven has 19” biceps but there is no known exercise to build a 12” dick. A man has to be born with this random genetic trait. He was in the military and has seen hundreds of guys in the shower, but never seen anything like the equipment displayed in the pictures. He somehow feels inadequate. Who are these freaks of nature? I recall him commenting on the shaved girl’s pudenda. “Christ! I’ve been married 20 years and still have no idea what the hell it looks like! Never occurred to me that a woman would shave that! It’s creepy!”

Where do these attractive girls come from? What tangled family life led them to participate in this circus act? One assumes that the ID and medical status of the girls is recorded, but are these girls just walking around on the street of LA? Are they recruited in some way? How much do they get paid? Are they forced into this activity? Are there pimps or procurers? Are the girls from Los Angeles or Russia? I became curious about what the pay scale may be for young girls of 18 or so for an appearance in the magazines, or in the endless supply of fornication videos. There isn’t a published pay scale, but informally there are statements that seem to reveal that the pay is just a few hundred dollars. I guess that the capitalist principles of supply and demand have determined that there are a large number of maidens available and none of them can command enough money to establish a significant and regular income.

On the home front his wife sits, sobbing at the lost innocence of her precious daughter. Inevitably, in her mind, it seems that in some way it is her husband’s fault, or at least the fault of men and their crude and offensive behavior. Unfortunately, while she is brooding upon the low-life and vulgar aspects of men that may have been revealed to her in the past, Steven happens to mention that some of the portrayed incidents are kind of hot. It was clearly the wrong thing to say at that point. Another flame of argument ensued. Suddenly he was sleeping a few nights in a motel, no doubt temporarily as they love the make-up sex. I moved on to another gym in the mid-summer and never gave this incident another thought.

I had not, at that time, thought about how the family reaction might have been quite different had the magazines been found hidden in the boy’s room. Young damsels are thought to be naively demure and thus unaware of the procreative chaos of the male assault awaiting them upon approaching a semblance of physical maturity. A young man of 14 or so is about to become eagerly curious about the nature of sex and female attributes. If Steven’s son was discovered to have the magazines, it would probably have been treated with less emotional uproar.

It is no longer possible to be as innocent and ignorant we were in the ‘50’s when I was in my teens and early adulthood. Living near the tiny town of Suquamish – an isolated rural area – there was hardly a hint of sexuality. The National Geographic would occasionally have exotic tribal scenes in which ladies might display breasts. In high school there would be occasional, but all too rarely, very worn magazines furtively passed around. Mad Magazine was one such, but it was devoid of sexual content. More to the point there were less common magazines such as Nudist Garden that showed both sexes coyly participating in badminton or picnics. The naughty bits were retouched, or hidden behind a hand or shrub. I recall viewing a couple of issues of Playboy, probably borrowed from someone’s father. The nude centerfold photos of the time were quite discrete, and the luscious young ladies depicted were thoroughly made-up to hide any blemish. The lighting for the photography was complexly organized and while nipples and bellybuttons might be visible, the pudenda remained hidden. Soon other magazines became more daring and explicit. By the early ‘60’s magazines such as Hustler were offering full-beaver gynecological imagery.

There was no newsstand in Kitsap that would enable a young man to buy an issue of such revealing images. There was a drug store in Poulsbo that had a small magazine rack, but Playboy was behind the counter. Mad was not available there. The Nudist magazines were on a high rack at the Seattle ferry terminal; an adult had to request the step stool to acquire an issue.

Heather, Steven’s daughter, would be 24 or so today. How did they handle this odd but not unique crisis? What became of her? Was this exposure at a young age influential? Or was it just a childhood memory forgotten? Did she move on to safe but energetic sex with friends? Or did she provide Porn Star sexual sessions with young men in her life? It would certainly be to the astonishment of the young men. Was she repulsed by the whole idea? If she thought the magazines were a true depiction of what men were about, perhaps she wanted nothing to do with any of those activities. I suspect that the magazines were being circulated surreptitiously among friends – in this case probably girlfriends. No doubt there was a brisk trade in naughty magazines amongst the boys, and inevitably some were diverted.

This little incident was about 15 years ago, but is still pertinent and current. Within this time interval, however, there has been a huge change within the pornography industry. There is no way to estimate the extent of the change in availability and content, but comparing the quaint photos of 19th century “Ladies of Negotiable Affection” of New Orleans’ brothels, for instance, with the exaggerated explicitness of today’s free porn on the internet reveals a stark contrast. The faded amber photos of ‘Dawson Dottie’ or ‘Klondike Kate’ of the 1890’s Yukon seem amusingly staid and quaint. In today’s harsh light and superior evolved fashion consciousness – who would pay for a session with that pudgy middle-aged sagging female?

As an old fart sitting in the little physical rowboat that I have paddled in the shallows of what now seems a vast sea of human sexual activities, I can reflect upon how a tiny trivial batch of information and interactions in the prime of life has led to a superficial grasp of the topography of the extent of the ocean’s possibilities. I can lean over the side of the rowboat and scoop up a teacup of experience to contemplate. Had I been in better health, had I not been so shy, had I not spent most of my life feeling like a misplaced Martian on this planet, there could have been considerably more to be experienced.


Background information:

Sally Salamander

I was very shy and isolated in high school. I was incompetent in sports, bullied, and lacking any transportation. I went to the local drive-in movie once in a sedan full of guys to see a black and white sci-fi movie. The rural drive-in was a party playground for local youth and young adults. On the way to the snack bar during intermission I recall that there was inexplicable hilarity at the back of the parking area. There frequent gossip about exploits and activities at the drive-in.

Sally Salamander was briefly in school when I was a junior. She was a dark haired, happy-go-lucky big-breasted young lady that had been in school, gotten pregnant, disappeared for a while and reappeared briefly. Her child was never mentioned: adopted I guess. Sally was one of the few people in the school that spoke to me. She said nothing more than “Hi”, but she was friendly and outgoing, and seemed much more mature than the other students. She was taking stenography courses such as typing.

She soon dropped out, but she would pick up girlfriends in her Uncle’s big ’48 Pontiac sedan. There was an attempt to enforce a no smoking policy on campus, but the girls would all light up as soon as the Pontiac was in sight, and then the six or eight would pile into the car laughing and shrieking. In retrospect I assume there was plenty of alcohol in the car. There were no drugs in rural Kitsap, but there was a lot of alcohol available.

Sally had a reputation as a loose woman and a heavy drinker. She had been found half naked and passed out in the locker room. She had been escorted off the field as drunk and disorderly at a football game. She was delivered to her parents after being found unconscious in the back of a ’49 Ford that was involved in a traffic accident – driven by two sailors. Her exploits were an occasional topic.

Sally was frequently at the drive-in where young men would ply her with alcohol. I gather that several guys would pick her up and prime her with sloe gin and Coke. At the theater they would proceed to get her smashed and coax her out of her panties and indulge in what is now called a gangbang in the back seat, with her putting up little or no resistance.

At one of these celebrations of beastliness, an acquaintance of mine got involved. His name was Richard, but he was called Ritchaaaard! He was a pleasant sort of fellow trying to learn to be a bad boy by hanging out – trying to fit in with a wilder bunch. When he got over to their car he had to start to catch up on the drinks – getting a solid slug of gin in his waxed paper cup of root beer. It was necessary to drink quickly because the alcohol would loosen the wax coating and liquor would stain and drain through the cup seam. He was soon loaded and caught up just as the action was getting under way. First one young man and then another and then yet another climbed in the back and jumped up and down on Sally. These so-called sex acts were probably one-minute quickies. She was drenched in cum: bombed but somewhat conscious. Suddenly it was Ritchaaard’s turn. He was slow to jump and suddenly he was grabbed from behind and his face plunged down into her drenched pussy. Despite his efforts he was held there a while, and Sally started laughing, swearing, and shrieking about the episode. As he was released he threw up all over her and the interior of the car. He ran off, pulling his pants up. The story was everywhere and he didn’t live that episode down; “The guy that throws up on girls.”

A couple years later, I was in college, bussing dishes in the evening, and spotted him with a pretty and demure young lady. They seemed to be on a date, having a nice dinner. My thought at the time was, “Well, good for him.”

Reflecting back, was it good for Sally? She was involved in activities demonstrating a lack of concern or awareness regarding consequences, a youthful participant in what were considered adult activities without forethought, planning or guidance. She was just going with the flow, enthusiastic in what would seem to be self-destructive behavior. It was easy path to superficial popularity.

I have no idea what became of her, but the script she was participating in and her role in the theatrics would not seem to lead anyplace but personal disaster. Sally was a willing participant to whatever extent she was capable of rational decision within the turmoil created by her willingness to debase herself.

The Blind Girl I remember:

When I was about 15, living in an impoverished rural town that is now filled with members of the cul-de-sac tribe, there was a blind young lady. I thought of her as an older woman, but she was probably in her early twenties. Not a pretty woman, built like a fireplug, living in her parents house and leading a rather sheltered life. I remember her playing with her cats on the porch on a nice day. She had several very friendly large grey and black cats.

Some local rowdy young men would load her into a car and “have their way with her” and then cheerfully drop her off: raped, roughed up, stunned, disheveled and lost within a few yards of her house. The hilarity of the story was embellished with the acting out of her flailing and groping as she tried to get her bearings and find the way to her mailbox and driveway, with her panties on her head. I gather this happened repeatedly, and, of course, she became pregnant and was shipped off to some facility.

There is now a splendid gated estate on the site of her parental home, the old stump farm now nicely mowed. The last name of one of the young men involved with the activity is now on a huge sign on an auto repair-tire sale store near the new freeway.

A poem that seemed poignant and relevant to me 45 years ago, referred to ‘the black mirror of a blind girl”. The poem was by Stuart Z. Perkoff, a “Beat” poet, now long forgotten, but his chanting accompanied by electric guitar and harmonium still haunts me.

What am I brooding about? Inquiring minds want to know.

Why wasn’t God Watching?

Why wasn’t God Listening?

Why wasn’t God There,

For Georgia Lee?

         Tom Waits


The 10 photos

My first part time job at college was assisting in an annual inventory count in an electrical supply warehouse. There was a mile of steel shelves, filled with bins, boxes, and tagged units. Each of us was given a clipboard and printed inventory list for each shelving unit. Copiers had not been invented yet and the sheets were printed on real printing presses. We were to go from left to right on the top shelf, and then right to left on the next shelf, matching the item name and then the count. Sometimes the count would be a unit, and sometimes the bins would contain dozens of fittings to be counted. We were using wheeled stepladders to reach the upper shelves. One of my coworkers was up the ladder wobbling at the top shelf and happened to brush his hand on an envelope that was covered with a heavy layer of dust. In the envelope was ten 4X5 black and white photos depicting a sailor and a lady progressing from clothed and hugging to naked and reclining on a couch with him on top, depicting a sex scene. He kept his jaunty white sailor’s cap on from start to finish. This was quite a disruption for the guys doing the inventory. Such was the state of pornography in ’58. The photos – production prints – were probably from the era of WWII or the Korean War. No one had seen anything like it.

Stag Films

There were rumors of ‘Stag Films’ but these were not common. The films were advertised in the back of various magazines. The short films had saucy titles and were often sold in bundles: five films for the price of three, shipped in a plain paper wrapper. The films were silent and came in 8 mm or 16 mm formats. In about ’61, I saw a few Stag Films at a bachelor’s party celebrating the marriage of one of the bikers. Several films were shown at party central – a rented house that we rather trashed during the festivities.

For all the talk about the stag films, they were silent and quite short. The story lines were idiotic, and the imagery was not particularly explicit. These were not fancy productions; probably shot in an afternoon with no re-takes. Judging from the costumes and hairdo, some of these films may have been shot shortly after Edison invented the kinescope, certainly some dated from the flapper era. The films had been copied and re-copied endlessly. The ladies were attractive but rather ordinary and the male performers were utterly ordinary. The only ‘star’ widely known today from this naughty-nudie vintage venue is Betty Page, and I don’t think she was in these films. The films were not in good condition, probably passed hand to hand for a decade or more. Despite the low-keyed attempt at luridness the films were boring.

The films had been available for several decades and were delivered in the mail, which influenced the nature of the erotic content. The films may as well have shown the couples playing cards. The films were sent in the mail and the advertised illusion was that these films were naughty and forbidden, but the reality was, I suspect, that the films passed the Comstock standards that prevailed at the time. The Comstock Act of 1873 made it illegal to send any “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devices or biological information.This law was repeatedly challenged, and major court battles took place in the 1960’s. For instance, Henry Miller’s books were forbidden import until the early ‘70’s. At our little showing the commentary of the viewers provided the entertainment and that was not elevated discourse.



As a Junior in Art School taking ‘advanced’ figure drawing, an old professor (his name escapes me) had a reference book available which demonstrated compound lighting – how to illuminate a model to reveal form. The 3” thick book probably dated from the ‘30’s. Photographers were standardizing the methods of lighting portraits and the figure. How can the lights be placed to best observe and render the model? However, Artists over the centuries had devised a wide variety of lighting schemata despite the lack of flash bulbs and electric photofloods. Rembrandt was noted for his dramatic lighting for portraiture, often called ‘refrigerator lighting’ – as if looking into a refrigerator. The book was of interest because both the male and female models had all naughty bits retouched out of existence – nipples, genitalia, and even the navels were removed, although the butt crack remained. Faces were also retouched to be defect free. The representations were of some other humanoid race of asexual semblances.

Early Porn Magazines

Long ago – ’64 or so, I briefly shared a studio with a somewhat older Artiste. He had quite a stack of porn magazines of the time – black and white photos, goofy little titillating story lines. He referred to the magazines as ‘pound cake’. The depictions of both men and women were hairy; the women were often with unshaven legs and armpits. Some were obviously shot in Europe. The actual sexual apparatus was barely visible. As a minimally experienced shy guy I found the portrayal to be discouraging. Where or when was I going to meet or get involved with such blatantly sexual beings? The magazines were occasionally a source for a figurative pose for a drawing or painting. The characters were slim and well endowed; but most people on the planet are not physically elegant to the extent that they prompt universal lust at a glance.




In the late 70’s I became acquainted with Kohlmann. He was one of the rapidly increasing batch of itinerant multiple degreed gypsy intellectuals, moving from one institution to another on one or two year contracted teaching positions. I had recently been put in charge of all the campus copiers, and had an analog copier that would both enlarge and reduce images. He had need of reductions of maps and charts regarding regions of Africa. The reduced copies would be trimmed to fit and then be taped together. Additional arrows and information would be felt penned. The final handout or transparency template could then be copied. Projects such as these are now done on computers. Through these projects we became sort of friends.

During the acquisition of his last degrees, Kohlmann had been a ‘full fledged hippy’. The timely publication of “The Joy of Sex” by Alex Comfort and “The Kama Sutra” had significantly energized the sexual indulgences of his acquaintances. Upon completion of a doctorate he joined the Peace Corps, long hair and all. He was trained and sent to villages in Africa to work on sewage and water issues. During his hippy phase he had been an advocate of the free-love hippy lifestyle. He discussed his dream of going to Africa and getting back to the ‘natural sex’ of the untrammeled native villages. In the villages he found to his dismay that the missionaries had certainly done their work, and whatever spontaneity and variety may have existed had been reduced to little more than missionary position quickies.

The villagers were dressed shabbily, and were very shy, discrete, and reserved. They had been so thoroughly indoctrinated in Christianity that spontaneity and simple physical joyous expression had been eradicated. He became enamored with a charming dusky maiden of his dreams, but he had to spend a lot of time initiating her into any form of pleasurable variation in their romantic play. He was quite disappointed at the loss of his dreams of an earthy paradise. He felt that the churches had gone to a lot of trouble to eradicate an area of significant pleasure in exchange for difficult lives that contained far too little joy between birth, disease, and death.

The lives of tribal people are in an unpredictable transition. The old ways are now largely forgotten leaving cultural shards, and the present is a cruel rendering of adaptive poverty and hardship, much of which was not part of the culture until virtually yesterday. The Peace Corps workers were minimally sheltered in tents and awnings and the natives lived in traditional mud and wattle huts sporting sheet metal roofing, often made of flattened oil drums and miscellaneous cans. Water was free for gathering and hauling, but far from pure. The entire world was an outhouse; the hygienic rule was that anyplace 20 feet away was a suitable squat. There was very little money and few jobs that made even a pittance.

It was said that there was no prostitution until the churches came and money was introduced. When Kohlmann was in residence there were a couple of young widows that would provide sexual services for barter or small change, and it was quite perfunctory – they weren’t selling the illusion of pleasure, they were desperate for food and medicine. The white folks – Corps and officials – were sole source for valuables. This sort of dependency relationship is common – in Alaska the early whites traders and the churches very quickly altered whatever the traditional values may have been, and very soon the gift of syphilis was widely distributed.

Kohlmann’s reflections upon the disappearing lifestyles in Africa reminded me of the demise of the Eskimo that I had witnessed as a child, and the sorry state of the local Suquamish/Salish Indians squatting in poverty in rural Kitsap of my teens. The types of lives, arrangements for the allocation of resources and the life of hunter/gatherers is shredded by the new and improved modern intrusion, but life is lacking the assurance that was previously provided for the indigenous. The natives are not here for a visit. Nor are they participants in the dream of a momentary earthy exotic romantic paradise. They are reduced to abject and inescapable poverty that is perhaps not much different than life before the invasion by aliens. These ghostly outsiders that suddenly control the resources have shredded the earlier tribal life.


Several years ago I became briefly acquainted with Jim, one of the early soldiers in Iraq. He was between tours. As I recall he was on leave from his second assignment, waiting to be sent back for the third. He was a young, fit, but very edgy military guy that was living in his mother’s spare bedroom during his weeks off. He was so antsy that he came to the gym to simply wear himself out. He did very intense high speed and exhausting sessions that lasted a couple of hours.

We chatted several times. He had thought he had served his time, but through some terms of his contract, he was called up and re-assigned to Iraq. He hated the war, hated the Iraqis, but enjoyed the team aspect of being a soldier. He had no job prospects.

He knew nothing about Iraq or the Muslim religion or the civilian life prior to his arrival. He didn’t speak a word of the language until he was taught the couple dozen key phrases to shout at people when shoving them around, or threatening them when forcibly entering the houses. He had nothing good to say about the people or the country. He despised the lot of them. “What the fuck’re we doing there?” his repeated question.

There were two aspects that filled him with disdain.

On street patrol, in searing heat and in random unforeseeable danger, they had to enter storefronts and businesses and look around for weapons. Many of the businesses, particularly the Tea Shops, had TV’s mounted on the wall. In the Tea Shop’s men would sit much of the day, doing nothing but sipping sweet tea, playing dominoes and watching endless pornography, some of it ‘live’ from Berlin or Amsterdam.

Jim found the hypocrisy of this behavior beyond comprehension. Here were these severely religious men that won’t let their women show their faces or so much as an ankle. The wives are kept prisoner in the house, and only allowed out when accompanied by a male relative. Meanwhile the men are at ease watching gross pornography involving white women. White women (called flashlights) were infidels and beyond concern and existed outside the men’s strict religious principles, which they flaunted by praying 5 times a day.

In the evening or early morning the soldiers on patrol could hear the wives being raped and/or beaten. The men often had 3 or 4 wives and abuse was just part of the marriage. Those of the Shia branch can purchase wives as young as 9 years old. Mohammed had a wife of 9, thus this was acceptable. While prostitution was part of the TV programming, it was hidden in town. Widows that had no one to provide support were wandering the streets in a Burka. They would wear a red sock that they could discretely flash, signaling that they were available. This was very dangerous because prostitution was potentially a beheading or stoning offence, but they had no other way to make any money. Through a loophole in the Islamic Code, (Mut’ah) a man can temporarily marry a woman for an hour or more to have sex and not be a sinner in Allah’s eyes. The women have no similar religious relief.

Men could sell their daughters as temporary brides with no repercussions, although the loss of virginity disqualifies the girls from marriage in the future. Women are of little value, and their fate is not important. Marriages were arranged between families, not a result of the romantic customs of our society.

Recently one report in the little news we actually get from Iraq: one of the Sunni Imams has announced that it is permissible for Sunni men to freely rape Shia women of any age, and they also may be kidnapped and sold into prostitution or shared freely amongst fellow warriors. This amounts to rape and sex slavery as weapons of war. No weapons aside from assault are necessary.

There was great emphasis on virginity of the young brides that was to be demonstrated by the blood on the marriage bed sheets from the act of defloration. This illusion could be perpetrated by several opportunities for fraud. Elder religious leaders or local midwives can verify the presence of an intact hymen for a fee prior to the wedding ceremony. The illusion of virginity may also be created by an operation called hymenoplasty, which if done in England, France, or the USA might cost $900. This is a minor bit of stitchery done in a daytime clinic visit a week or so prior to the ceremony. There are also traditional ruses involving the insertion of a small sheepskin bladder containing bloodlike liquids. Recently there has been an insert-able ‘artificial hymen’ containing a gelatin capsule guaranteed to rupture and release a suitable sheet staining liquid. This device is imported from China, which has its own regional customs. Thus the daughters sold into prostitution may be redeemed through conspiracy.

The military’s dependence upon an extensive array of contractors has been an invitation to set up auxiliary services such as prostitution. One story from Jim involved an American food service vendor that opened a Chinese Restaurant adjacent to the Green Zone. The contractor imported many young Chinese women for staff, and sexual services were provided in a warren of tiny rooms in the back. There were separate entrances for US Forces and local Muslims.

This kind of double duplicity drove Jim into fits of anger. He spent much of every day wondering, “Why the fuck’re we there? Protecting a bunch of pious savages!”

Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand

Eddie was in the gym erratically. When he was in town he would be a regular for a week or two and then he’d disappear for weeks or months. He had been an Air Force Tanker pilot, but had retired after 20 years. He had been a standby pilot for a major airline but after the Iraq war broke out there was suddenly a demand for independent pilots that had security clearance – namely former military cargo pilots. He went to work for one of the independent contractors. He would never say who, or exactly what or where he was flying, but the itinerary involved unmentionable cargo delivered to obscure places not mentioned in the news. He may have been, probably was, involved in the ‘extraordinary renditions program’. He would hedge around the topic, not willing to go into any detail and not admitting anything. He was well paid and was having a great adventure while working as an independent contractor for a corporation that worked silently for the CIA or other governmental agencies.

His hobby seemed to be hooking up with local hookers wherever he went. When he found out I was an artist/writer he decided that perhaps I was a kindred spirit – what with the nude models and all – and he felt compelled to tell me about some of these incidents. For instance, he was pleased to chat about an available and striking woman in a bar in Kazakhstan. She was from Hungary and was featured in some European porno magazine. She kept a copy in her purse to show to clients, to demonstrate that she was a real pro and worth the extra pittance per hour.

One of his fondest memories was of the floating brothels in South East Asia (Cambodia or Viet Nam). He said these were known as “Flowerboats’. Poverty stricken farmers would often sell one or more of their young daughters into prostitution – there were traveling procurers willing to pay a few hundred dollars cash. Depending upon the nature of the handshake contract, some daughters would be expected to send part of their earnings home. Once out of sight, the procurer would begin the ‘breaking in’ process of introducing these 7-9 year olds into the sex trade. By the time they were delivered to the Flowerboats they would be adept. Uncooperative or rebellious daughters might be blinded by a local medicine man. Blind maidens might be trained as fortunetellers. Blind girls were welcome on the Flowerboats because local custom was that a blind girl couldn’t tell what the man looked like, and thus all men were treated with equal enthusiasm. If the blinded girls were not attuned to prognostication or didn’t display sufficient ardor, they were simply dropped over the side. Inexpensive replacements were readily available.

Eddie had quite a story about spending $50 for an entire night of fondling eager blind girls. One highlight was watching the blind girls wrestle in a large tub filled with cooking oil. Slipping, sliding, laughing, grabbing and flailing at each other with dildos, and so on. In addition to what was going on with the floorshow, there were TV’s over the bar that showed endless pornography, often child porn, but also bondage, rape scenarios etc. It was great entertainment in his opinion.flowerboat #2 1flowerboat #1

Eddie, the pilot, responsible for millions of dollars of high tech equipment, and long trained for performance, had seemingly no compunctions about taking advantage of the pleasures to be had in brothels of the world. No questions about the well being, past or future, for these creatures on the planet that were available to amuse and please him.


I started this mess off with a little story about Martin and his daughter Sylvie, but as I got to thinking about the issues involved the story kept expanding. I don’t pretend to know doodly about sex in society. I barely remember the urgency of it, and only have vivid recollections of a handful of treasured incidents.

We would rather not admit that the flaws in others that may fill us with misgivings are, in fact, our own. We would rather engage in self-delusions that are often the key to happiness. The longer we can go without changing the less likely change becomes. A life is a limited timeframe, and the sort of self-awareness necessary for personal change is seemingly not widespread. And as one ages some changes inevitably occur, until subtle behavioral changes are overwhelmed by the simple fact that the body simply no longer functions as it once did. We don’t get to start over, fresh, young, and full of vigor. Soon enough, in fact all too soon, our ability to pursue the physical exploits that were casual and taken for granted in early maturity becomes mere ghosts of past possibilities.

Within our little white middle class social structure, there seems to be social concern regarding the realm of the loss of virginity for young ladies. However, in contemporary pornography there is a huge demonstrated interest in the depiction of defloration. Evidently white guys sitting at computers love to engage in this fantasy activity. The harvesting of innocence is a routine life passage but is also an unpredictable occurrence. Defloration may be widely varied in actual personal realities. Since other people are involved in the earliest experiences there can be many effects. Unfortunately, young men are eager but inconsiderate, and many young ladies may also be eager, but no one can predict the sort of effect that these experiences may have in the passage of time.

Was Steven’s daughter, Heather, stimulated or terrified at the prospect of sex as depicted by the pornographic magazines? I don’t know how that all worked out – it is none of my business – but it was a matter of great concern to Steven and his wife. Their mutual outrage at the exposure would seem to indicate that they had in mind a gentler, more personal exploratory process for the passage into maturity. Not that they wanted to intervene and control the details of this initiation, but they hoped for an experience that was discrete, private, personally intense, and meaningful.

I suspect that both Martin and Steven’s notion of how the daughters should proceed would be a progression from a few intense friendships extending to some physical familiarization and leading to a romantic union through marriage, preferably a pleasantly loving union that lasts decades. This sort of arrangement is actually relatively rare, in fact. More than half of all marriages end in divorce and many that don’t end in separation have internal faults leading to varying levels of disgruntled muttering and avoidance. The middle class white folk notion of a proper marriage is historically a recent phenomenon. It was encouraged by the rise and intertwining forces of our capitalist system.

Within our political system there is constant references to ‘family values’. In current examples we have an odd sort of denial of reality. Hardly any family serves as the golden ideal. If we look back to the earliest American settlers – the Puritans for instance, the marriage strictures were rather severe and women were often rendered simply house slaves, laborers in the man’s house, and were easily replaced. The women often died in childbirth. There is now a significant battle over reproductive rights. Some states have denied women’s reproductive freedoms and related health care issues. We might hope this is the last of elderly white guys managing the roles of women. It is arriving on the scene, as the role of capitalism is increasingly debated.

The role of romance within the social structure of the middle class has become one of personal self-realization. In the not very distant past we were led to believe in our own immortality. We were all going to heaven if we would just follow the religious rules. Our roles were set for us through the status of our birth. Individuals were serfs or slaves with little or no opportunity to rise within society. One of the attractions of rampant capitalism was the ability to shift social status through hard work, or education, or demonstrated capabilities. While this personal advancement may still occur, the ruthless boom and bust cycles of our current financial system destroys the wealth of the lower classes while enhancing the accumulations of the already wealthy.

The capitalist crisis that seems to occur in every decade of history has led to the erosion of ‘family values’ and the related myths of ever advancing economic well-being. Our personal narratives are rendered a shambles. Up until recently there were few if any personal narratives of distinction. The encouragement of ‘shopping around’ for personal happiness through romances, gratification, and love linked marriages was dependant upon the now discredited promise of our increasingly ruinous financial system. We were groomed for the pleasure of new sensations, and the search for marriageable mates became a personal quest. Very recently in our past, and in many societies today, brides are simply bought or have negotiated values and alliances. Until very recently this bartering of women was almost universal.

Lasting love in our disruptive financial environment has become difficult. Romantic alliances are based on an individual feeling of mutual desire. We can change our roles and change has come to be desirable. We often want to avoid boredom; all manner of diversions can be purchased if we have the freedom to change jobs, locations, and mates. However the precarious personal reality for many is of desperation and financial ruin. Capitalism and romantic love offer the ceaseless promise of escape to a better world over the rainbow. But a general sense of the lie inherent in that promise is growing. The system of promised rewards has broken down, and left us with too many broken hearts.

Episode #3

The Pending Deaths

Big John, an acquaintance in the gym, has been noticeably in the dumps for several weeks. Men don’t talk about serious matters in the gym: the weather, honeydew lists, pickup trucks, a bit about high-light-reps vs. low-heavy-reps etc. John is well into his 60’s and has been trying to keep his weight below 275# for decades. All weight loss is temporary. We have been together in the gym perhaps 100 times: our schedules overlap occasionally. He has seemed a bit depressed for a while, but it is none of my business. But over a period of months, the story comes out in bits and pieces, and I attempt to reconstruct it.

Big John and Dolores

Big John and Dolores

He tells me of his two friends, both dying. They are unrelated but friends of long standing – 40 or more years. These people have cycled from friend status to acquaintances and then back to friends. His immediate lament is that he is running out of people to talk to. His peers are ‘passing on’ and none of them asked to go down the path they are on, which consists of extended lengthy debilitating illnesses and treatments. The reality is that even if the treatments and medicine are effective his friends will not be the characters they once were. There is no returning to past vivacity. Soon it will be Big John’s turn – each of us will get a turn.

Who are these people? What is their life? What was the story?

He speaks of Marylyn, a tall, broad hipped, vigorous lady in his memory. They were in high school together and had dated briefly. She quickly realized he was not for her. His interest in girls at that time was physical – getting a wet kiss, a handful of tits. She was on to that scam and stayed unencumbered through both high school and college. She became a teacher and later a counselor, and then some sort of administrator. She was a woman of wit and accomplishment.

Her first husband developed a taste for drink and it became part of his job. His Frat-boy skills and his capacity for drink led him to prosper. He also fooled around a bit, eventually giving Marylyn the clap a couple of times.

She divorced that lout and demonstrated that she had learned a lesson and in her late 30’s remarried to a hell of a great guy. He was some sort of supervisor in the Postal Service and a bit of a scholar of Shakespeare, and an appreciator of classical music and opera.

John didn’t have contact with her during the first marriage, but their paths crossed frequently for the next 30 years. He admired the pair, actually was in a bit of awe of them, and they had some great meals and long talks on the back deck with a bit of wine and crackers with cheese.

The husband died on the job. It was some sort of heart problem that laid him low, about 5 years from retirement. Marylyn rebounded quickly and proceeded to hire a contractor to re-arrange the house a bit, which enabled her to rent half the house to college couples. It became an apartment with a shared kitchen, and, of course, some couples were great and some were not.

John and his wife had many meals with Marylyn and met some of the couples. They talked of pets, gardening, cooking, politics, gossip. What do friends talk about? A couple of years ago it became obvious that something wasn’t quite right, and suddenly, she was undergoing treatment and was soon hospitalized. She is dying. The conversations now revolve around her concerns that the cats are fed, that the yard is kept up, and memories and laments of the past. All of this is weighing upon Big John.

The other dying friend is Bob, declining fast and in considerable pain: often a zombie from the drugs as his spine is eaten away. Bob was quite a colorful character. He was a wildman in his youth and the source of considerable uproar to those entangled with him: a couple wives, a few kids, and several girl friends were stirred into the chaos he created. In high school and as a young adult he was a charismatic and energetic performer in the Elvis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley mode. This inevitably led to alcohol and drug abuse, and, of course, numerous infidelities, car wrecks, minor arrests, lost wallets and so on. He was a hell of a lot of fun.

Bob - Death at hand

Bob – Death at hand

Big John was dealing with his own family and job issues, and observed most of this chaos from a distance. He had occasional contact with Bob, but couldn’t begin to keep the storyline straight. As Bob matured and settled down a bit they became closer friends. He admired the second wife and wondered what the hell she was thinking – sticking with Bob, the loose cannon. His girlfriends seemed to be either nice ladies on a fling, or worn girls on a downhill slide. Bob seemed oblivious to their merits or faults.

In his 40’s Bob became ensnared in court cases regarding his lack of support payments for some children. At the same time his ‘rock star’ career was falling apart – it is not an old man’s game. He knew or was known by thousands of people. They were all acquaintances, not really friends now that he was off-stage and not buying the fun. But he created a business that was perfect for him. A job made by him for him. He was out all hours, checking the talent, making deals, breaking promises and staying high. He had become a Booker/Manager/Agent for bands, venues, and vendors. He made an ok living for a while, until he became ill.

Bob is now in his 60’s and he has a growth between some deteriorated spinal discs and he is in a state hospice. John says it is an awful place; noisy, the food terrible, and the minimum wage staffs speak little English. People die every day, and Bob will be exiting feet first on a wheeled cart soon. Despite all this John goes up to see him every few weeks. The only visitors are Big John and the one son of Bob’s that will still speak to him. John and Bob had a few great times together long ago, much to the wives’ chagrin. Now, if John calls the desk early in the day, the medication can be reduced a bit and Bob will be uncomfortable but awake and they can swap memories. Bob has a lot of goofy stories of the stars of the past and flock of various adventures.

Recently John is troubled by a promise he made to Bob. It was a joke at first, but Bob has repeatedly insisted that John promise to “go get laid for me and come back and tell me about it.” Bob’s deathbed lament is that he didn’t have enough sex, despite having ravaged dozens of more or less willing females. Now he would enjoy hearing of someone’s conquest. He doesn’t have computer access, and the institution forbids porn. Whatever pleasure or respite porn would give him is out of reach. In the last few years before he became disabled, Bob would occasionally engage a prostitute on his prowl for moneymaking opportunities, or call an escort service and have one sent over. He admits that his performance was an embarrassment, but the simple joy of holding and fondling was money well spent. The illusion of a relationship made him blissfully feel like a man, despite his erratic performance.

Bob had asked his son to take on the mission, but the son is far overweight, and has very possibly never managed to have sex. The son is overly religious and also a bit of a ‘stick in the mud’. In fact, the visits may be prompted by some misguided religious obligation. Father and son were almost strangers until the hospitalization. Big John is a bit rotund, so for him to call the son a blubber-butt would seem an odd assessment.

Big John is in full stall mode at this point, when he relates his dilemma to me, with a bit of hesitation and embarrassment. On the one hand, going off to have exciting sex with some young lady is an enticement, and on the other is the concern that he would get arrested, or that his wife would somehow find out, and also that his equipment wouldn’t work satisfactorily and that he would be embarrassed or disgraced.

My immediate suggestion for resolution is to lie. Make up an incident with some lurid details and forget it. Or simply stir up the wife’s pudding and tell Bob about that. But as it turns out, the story is all too common: as elderly adults they haven’t had intercourse in years. And John is reluctant to lie to his friend. Somehow lying doesn’t seem right, and a promise is a promise, but on the other hand he can’t bring himself to take direct action.

Recently, in the media there have been lurid reports of scandals regarding on-line advertising of the euphemistically titled Escort Services. Supposedly some of these Escort sites flagrantly advertise underage/child prostitution. The largest site in the world, Craigslist, finally closed down its’ participation in Escort ads due to the harassment about what were unfounded accusations.

I had become interested in this storyline a few years ago – it just seemed bogus to me. And in my casual review of the ads, I was never able to spot any under-age escort offers, a lot of sad and sorry looking ladies offering services and also a few striking females, but no kids. Craigslist decided to close the venue rather than spend vast sums in legal fees defending a low profit aspect of their business. A later investigation established that undercover cops hoping for the entrapment of johns in fact placed the few ads that appeared in large cities featuring under-age girls. Private investigators had been paid to substantiate a very minor problem by the highly profitable do-good fund that insisted there was a problem. Now that Craigslist folded, the organized Fun Suppression League is attacking other venues, and, again, there is no evidence, but that doesn’t prevent wild claims. A recent factual investigation reveals that there are about 800 arrests annually in the US of under-age prostitution suspects, none of which are related to on-line advertising venues. This would not seem to be a national scandal. The churches, movie stars, and right wing organizations fuel the attack dogs.

My suspicions about some news stories are aroused because in the past I had fallen for a widely reported wonder cure for schizophrenia and spent more money than I could afford on this treatment for Jan. A couple years later, after it had failed, I tracked down a report revealing the scope of the deception, and the dereliction of the investigative responsibility of the media. I have become quite suspicious ever since, and there have been many similar media escapades. There was a huge ‘scandal’ regarding child abuse in day care facilities, and innocent people were ruined or jailed as a consequence. There was also national hoopla regarding ‘Missing Children”, supposedly kidnapped in some sort of sinister white-slavery conspiracy. Photos appeared on milk cartons, despite the fact that almost all missing children are tangled in some divorce visitation rights escapade usually initiated by the father, and the kids are returned within a few days. Certainly, here and there, some isolated child goes missing in criminal and crazed activities, but this is not an example of extensive national criminality. Locally there was a huge blow-up about Satanic Circles and child sacrifices. The lurid press reports went on for a couple of years. Fellow church members confessed under duress and may still be in jail. The entire episode was entirely a product of overly active troubled minds, fantasy, and lack of calm rational fact checking. And, of course, we have the entire War on Terrorism, and the Afghanistan, Iraq War and similar national disasters based on vapors.

So I suggested that Big John go through the Backpage site and select some ladies that seem to be of interest, ladies that regularly advertise and are thus really in business, and print out the ads and pick one out. I suggested that John could simply call up a few ladies and chat briefly with them, and select one based on tone of voice and friendliness. After all, some of the ladies in the ads are offering companionship as one of the general services. These ladies are professional hostesses. Establishing some sort of quick and easy rapport is part of the business, and whatever might transpire, they have seen it all before. Big John in all his naked awesomeness is not outside the realm of their experience, and aside from inflicting multiple stab wounds, he would just be another customer on a busy day in the oldest profession.

I also suggested that he consider going to an Asian Massage Parlor (AMP). Some of these establishments feature a variety of services beyond hot oil massages. It would seem reasonable to assume that AMP’s listed in the Escort ads would offer entertaining variations such as soapy rubdowns. It turns out that Big John has never had a massage aside from a rare Ben-Gay backrub by his wife when he was in pain. Patrons of chiropractors are often referred to massage therapists for further manipulation and pain relief. Many staunch descendants of Nordic stock consider such treatments to be a character flaw and a sign of weakness.

I had a part time employee, long ago, that was a big fan of AMP’s. Every payday was AMP day. He had a favorite place and would chat about the inappropriate-for-public-discussion joys of little Asian ladies walking down his back and sitting on his front. He was disappointed that I didn’t want to go along with him. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for the boss to share the same AMP, although, as I recall there was a special discount if he brought in a new customer.

On a trip to Vegas his parents had introduced him to the joys of massage. They were staying in a fancy casino, and his father had arranged for carte blanche services, including the spa facilities. He was around 14 at the time, and despite some misgivings, came to greatly enjoy the massage – which I presume was not sexual. In the military he was stationed in Korea and quickly learned of the wonders of the AMP, and when finally stateside, he found similar businesses available. He was an odd and solitary guy, trying to get a job in law enforcement. I recall him talking dreamily: “The massage parlor is so much cheaper than being married, and where would I ever find a wife that would make me feel that good whenever I wanted?”

In the late ‘60’s, as the Viet Nam vets came back to the states, there were sad little reconstructions of AMP’s in areas such as Ponders, near Fort Lewis in Tacoma, for instance. As an occasional drinker in biker dives – out slumming – it was not uncommon for GI’s to brag of their exploits while on R&R in Saigon or the Philippines. This often revolved around AMP’s or strip joints that featured back room accommodations to entertain our heroic fighting men. Whatever country is fighting, all sides are involved in providing exploitable pleasure-dolls for the conscripts. What we would consider under-age in our genteel and judgmental culture is often irrelevant to the survival factor in countries shredded by military action.

Big John was not in the military. He married while in junior college and then set off on several jobs, none of which provided him with adventure. He settled early, had a couple kids, and now some grandkids. This whole episode is none of my business, and I am surprised at how I got recruited into advisory capacity. At the moment I have no idea what he is going to do. I know that he got a prescription one of the Viagra style drugs, but I’m not sure how he intends test drive the medicine. I have recurring images of his hulking hairy body in some thoroughly mismatched attempt with a randomly selected 20-something lady wearing nothing but a big smile, a few tattoos and a shaved pudendum. The contrast in expectations, experience, age, and physical condition could be hilarious. On her part it would probably be a routine episode ripe for opportunity to offer special services to empty his wallet. For him, it could be a difficult realization of the losses accompanying aging.

As a gym rat – I’ve been in gyms over 5,000 times – I have seen far too many naked men in the locker room. A young and fit athletic guy is to be admired, but the sagging, bulbous, hairy, stooped, aching older gents are not an attraction. All of these guys have some sort of sexual past – one plays like boogie woogie and another plays like Debussy, yet another has operatic climaxes and the other one doesn’t quite make it to the chorus of the first verse. There is no way to tell at a glance, and actually it is of little interest. It is an aspect of life that is private and ultimately sadly tragic as it all fails in maturity. At the very time of life it would be of most value, it is inaccessible.

I’ve met Big John’s wife – Dolores, I think – and she is suitably drab, in a floral housedress, standing in sandals next to her worn Toyota. She is built like a fire hydrant. There is a whiff of a glimpse of the buxom round-faced blossoming beauty she may have been back in those long ago days. The vision of Big John coming home this afternoon and taking her to the bedroom for a hurried shedding of clothes and an hour of sweaty, sighing passion would be a marvel to observe. We would have to turn our eyes from the spectacle. Mere poetry could not suffice to describe the amazing aspects of a lifetime of love and physically shared joy. Unfortunately I have been privy to the fact that they haven’t engaged in such activities in a decade or so. And now he is about to attempt a tantalizing infidelity for the sake of a promise, and this adventure seems ill fated.

Episode #4

Life in the Cul-de-sac

In the gym there is a hushed conversation. The storyteller is a lady in her 30’s, a bit of a fitness buff. I had no comment at the time, but it got me to thinking.

A friend of hers was arrested the other day. A couple of days before that arrest a pair of youngsters were involved in what may have been a sexual incident, behind a house in the cul-de-sac community.

The young lady involved was a child of about 10 or 11. The young man is about 13. It is unclear whether it was a rape consummated, or assault, or harassment, but some unfortunate and perhaps inappropriate activity occurred. The girl ran crying into the house with no pants on, wearing only her tiny little training bra.

The police were called: the bra seized as evidence, the clothes outside were gathered and statements taken. The young man – a boy, actually – is hauled off and questioned by the police and counselors. He was briefly placed in juvenile detention, and then released to his parent’s custody.

A couple days later a neighbor lady saw the boy walking by the scene. She was very disturbed by the incident, outraged in fact. She raced out of the house and started yelling at the young man. He paused as this adult ran up to him shrieking. I gather he attempted to apologize and smooth the episode over, but she will have none of that, and she whipped out a kitchen knife she had hidden, one arm behind her, and she stabbed the boy in the gut. Actually she inflicted an abdominal flesh wound and then cut his arm on the rewind.

She was under the impression that he was about to go back for second helping of rape with the vulnerable girl.

The cops were called, there’s a bit of blood, and a medic unit showed up. The boy is taken to a local hospital and there were some stitches, tetanus shot, etc. The wound could have been serious, but the wound was not life threatening. The lady was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. She was released on bail a few days later. She was calmed down with some counseling and medications, and was contrite and sorry. She has admitted that she over-reacted and had been prompted into such a rash act by an incident in her past.

The boy is back in school. He has no previous record, and is considered a good student and amenable to counseling and therapy. The girl now attends a different school and is in counseling. Her main concern is about the return of her little training bra. It had a little blue bow that seemed special to her. The lady with the knife is back at work as a shipping clerk.

Many wealthy citizens buy houses in gated cul-de-sac ‘communities’ because they are seeking security, safety, and sheltered solitude. There is an illusion that life will be calm and that children will be safe. Despite the close proximity of neighbors, there is often little actual community. Everyone works or attends school. Neighbors are not friends because there is little interaction. The computerized security gate may prevent theft, but it does not exclude aspects of common human behavior.

More news from Cul-de-sac Tribe

I used the above little episode as a form of handout a few years ago, when I was exhibiting regularly. One person told me his family’s similar story of living in the cul-de-sac.

His little family had a bit of an inheritance and they put that down on a charming house in a cul-de-sac. The payment rates were affordable at the time. Both he and his wife were working, and their daughter would attend the local high school that was thought to be significantly better. Unfortunately the daughter began hanging out with a group of fellow students that closely resembled the riff raff that had surrounded her in the previous school. The parents had hoped the change would lead to her becoming socially adjusted to the upper middle class lifestyle of the new location.

As she attended the high school the situation deteriorated, and she became surlier and was skipping school. The parents were both working. The parents found it almost impossible to become acquainted with their neighbors, on the one hand they were gone all day, and on the other, in contemporary society every household has different interests and actually have little in common aside from location.

The daughter became involved with a young man – a drop out, and this led to her giving him the security pass code for the main gate. Suddenly houses throughout the community were being entered, robbed, looted, and damaged. The daughter was informally keeping track of what times people came and went from their houses and relayed the information to her boyfriend. He and his buddies would break in and loot the house. After several incidents a security camera was set up and it became obvious who was involved in the break-ins. Once the culprits were nabbed it came to light that the daughter was supplying the information that enabled them to raid the houses with impunity.

As this was revealed, the family became pariahs; considered terrible parents and in some way involved in the incidents. The daughter promptly ran away, living with other youth in the adjacent city, location unknown. The parents would like to sell the house, but financing has proven to be impossible because the value of the house is about 40% less than the loan obligation, thus the sale price won’t cover their current loan. They are financially stuck in this neighborhood, surrounded by people that won’t even acknowledge their existence, let alone feign friendliness.

They were awakened late one night by shouting and shrieking next door. Peeking out they saw a fight between the next-door neighbors. A husband was vigorously beating his wife and she was putting up a pretty good fight. They called the cops and the fight was broken up and the participants were hauled off on domestic disturbance charges. However their intrusion into the squabble was universally unwelcome.

Across the circular drive, a gentleman they had waved to in the past suddenly lost his job. They had waved to him in passing but never spoken to him. He celebrated the unfortunate freedom from work by going in the back bedroom and blew his brains out. The widow and children now live in the grandparent’s basement.

These are just a few examples of the peace, quiet, and joyous life in the suburbs.

The Virgin Birth?

A couple of years ago, in the gym I was told that one of my co-lifters was in ‘big trouble’. He was one of the local “tuffs”. To be “tuff” in Gig Harbor involves a form of improvisational street theater that consists of driving around in a loud Honda coupe, with blaring rap music, wearing baggy clothes and drinking beer out of a can. This pretense wouldn’t last two seconds in Compton or Detroit or even in parts of Seattle.

A sixteen year old young lady couldn’t get her father’s car to start in the church parking lot, and accepted a ride graciously offered by a couple of these ruffians. Evidently the young men decided it would be an enhancement of their outlaw status to terrorize, assault, and perhaps rape this virginal maiden (a church youth group leader and A student).

the Deacon

the Deacon



I will call the young lady Sarah. Her father is a deacon – some sort of honorary official in a large evangelical church. A very proper and erect gentleman, dedicated to good works, and also an insurance salesman. When he heard of the car difficulty he called a fellow parishioner, a mechanic, to please stop by and see what the problem might be with the car. There is a spare key hidden in the front bumper. When the mechanic got to the car it started instantly and he could detect no problem.

At the time, the incident merited a shrug. The car was fine, who knows why it wouldn’t start – maybe not fully in Park, or an ignition switch becoming intermittent. Not cause for alarm. However, a few months later, Sarah has missed a couple of periods and she furtively went to the doctor feeling queasy. In a matter of moments the doctor determined that Sarah was pregnant.

A couple of months later she was beginning to show, and she announced the fact to her parents. Her behavior had been noticeably deteriorating for a while. Suddenly she was caught smoking, and she had been quite broody, uncharacteristically silent and uninvolved in her previously active participation in school and church activities. The parents were aghast at the announcement and Sarah was not at all forthcoming about how this came to be.

The Deacon engaged a local cop to investigate. The cop is a church member. Sarah refused to answer questions or incriminate anyone, however the suspicion landed on the local “tuffs”. Both before and after the presumed conception they had been involved in minor nuisance charges. They are certainly visible. Sarah refused to charge them with rape. A bit of background questioning of her fellow students revealed that she had not been known to be dating or friendly with any fellow students. It had become obvious to all that she is quite pregnant.

The deacon arranged to have a ‘professional’ troubled teens counselor meet with Sarah. The counselor was from the mega-church franchise main branch. The counseling sessions did not go well, and Sarah refused to continue. The parents had very reluctantly discussed the option of abortion with Sarah, but by the time they had come to a bit of flexibility in their severe pro-life ideology it was a bit late for an abortion, and Sarah had already decided to have the baby.

the Counselor

the Counselor

Sarah had spent some weeks each summer with relatives in Idaho. The Aunt and Uncle had a small ranch, a couple of horses; some chickens, raising a beef annually. It was mutually decided that Sarah would go live with the Aunt until the child was born. This change of venue was a relief for the parents – out of sight out of mind. Sarah had become increasingly sullen and difficult. She had quit attending school and abandoned the church.

Sarah has refused DNA testing throughout the pregnancy and after the birth. She has also refused to return home, and has settled in with the Aunt and has found a part time job in a local shopping mall. She has never revealed who the father was, and has no intention of returning to her parent’s house, although they send some support money every month.

Shortly after the two “tuffs” were questioned and, in effect, accused of rape, the parents of one accomplice shipped him off to live with strict Mormon relatives in Utah. He has not been heard of since. The other “tuff”, the one I’m slightly acquainted with, has continued in his swaggering and erratic behavior. His Honda Coupe was seriously creased on one side in a drunken escapade, and he now has a dramatically clad post-punk style girlfriend. He seems to have stopped working out in the gym. He has put on about 30# around the belly and is busily filling in a set of ‘full sleeves’ of tattoos.

Episode #5 Big Bill

The other day I had to go into town for fasting blood work tests. As an elderly professional diabetic this is an annual pilgrimage. The tests don’t seem to reveal anything of consequence, but it does involve leaving the house sans breakfast, coffee etc, and by the time the ceremony is over I am starving, and my blood sugar is rapidly declining; so I am hungry, ill at ease, a bit dizzy and quite grouchy. On the way home I stop in a neighborhood café, a type of place that is rapidly disappearing. McDonalds is filled, but this little place has plenty of well-worn seating and nicely sticky tables. The traditional food is actually cooked by humans. It is so traditional that I can order biscuits & gravy with eggs over easy, and an Americano with an extra shot.

During my brief time as a cook on a tugboat (feeding 8) I had to quickly learn how to fix biscuits and gravy. It was not a staple in our house. In Nome, Mother would occasionally have some gravy left over from roast game (duck, goose) and the gravy would be poured over corn bread or re-heated French Fries. In the cooking of breakfast sausage or grilling burgers there are often bits and pieces and these can be scraped off the griddle and stored for a day or two. I would then take a pound of butter and render some roux. I would add the crispy chunks with perhaps several shredded and scorched sausage patties to the flour/milk/ roux ‘gravy’, and season with pepper. The biscuits would be fist sized from Bisquick. It was a very popular item. When I see it on the menu I often succumb to the temptation and order the platter. However in this century I think the ‘gravy’ comes in a five-gallon bucket and the cook just heats up a glob.

At a diner I frequented in college it was biscuits & gravy every Thursday – lots of sausage and thick gravy. Thursday morning was B&G and woe betide the man that didn’t want that. Guys would leave the house saying “Ah gee dear, I’m not hungry this morning so I‘ll just pick up something on the way to work.” The place was packed on B&G day. The diner I’m patronizing today is serving very ordinary biscuits & gravy; but it is a recipe in which the standards are not very high, at worst it is edible and at best it will put a pound on you (it is sometimes referred to as ‘heart attack on a platter’).

The scraggly looking young man serving had to make 3 trips to get the meal to my table, first it is the food, then he forgot the utensils, and then he had to wander around to find a catsup squeeze bottle. I leaf through the ‘Little Nickel’ and wolf down this undistinguished ordinary classic breakfast. As I slowly finish mopping up of the last of the gravy I sip coffee and look around at the other diners.

Most are regulars, local repeat customers, and are a bit paunchy. In contrast to the silence in fast food emporiums there is quite a bit of banter – “Hey Tim, how ya’ doin’ ?“ ”Is Jim out of the hospital yet?” “Want your regular?” People get up and get their own coffee refills, load their own plastic doggy boxes and so on. The dingy, busy environment reminds me of other places I would occasionally frequent long ago. There were a lot of little diners like this before corporate enterprises put most out of business. This place could be transferred to Nome and fit right in, neither better nor worse.

I sit and sip coffee before getting up and bussing my own dishes in the bins. I look across the room and this plump and sagging gent looks familiar in his grey hair, ratty baseball cap, checked shirt, suspenders, baggy pants, and very worn shoes.

Big Bill

Big Bill

It gradually dawned on me that he used to work at UPS, in another department, and that our paths there would cross occasionally. That was 20 years ago. Suddenly he looked up and our eyes met. He sort of recognized me, and we both nod a bit of a greeting in acknowledgment. At that moment I can’t remember his name, or what he did – something in the maintenance department. I sat staring at my coffee a little longer and get up to leave, and as I turned around from the bussing station he made a slight invitational hand wave.

I had to walk past his booth anyway, so I paused to greet him, figuring it will only take a moment and it is the polite and social thing to do. He waved his hand toward the empty seat across the table, so I sat and we begin to chat. I have been 12 years out of that job and he left a couple years later. He wants to exchange gossip about that ‘hellhole’, but I haven’t set foot in the place and have done my damndest to forget the entire 30 years wasted there. He was full of chatter about people I can’t remember or never knew.

He mentioned that his wife, Beth, died shortly after he retired. They had long planned to get a used motor home and travel, but just a few months after he quit, she started complaining about gut aches and fatigue. She hated going to the doctor, hadn’t seen one in years, but she finally eased her body into the doctor’s office and underwent about 100 tests. She had massive cancerous tumor growths all through her abdomen. It was inoperable, but she gamely went through treatment, lost her hair, turned yellow, and died within months. He had to take care of her; bathing, wiping her bottom, rolling her over to prevent bed sores, rubbing cream into her skin, and so on.

He was getting a bit teary talking about ‘Old Beth’. “She was one of those 3G women that are hard to find.” ‘3G’ stands for Good, Giving, and Game, which translates as pleasant and relatively virtuous, generous in time and attention, and ready to go along with whatever the game turned out to be.

I met Beth 3 or 4 times at UPS functions. A stocky square built lady, probably quite a foxy female in her tender youth. She had that low raspy ‘whiskey and cigarettes’ voice, a loud laugh, and a bit of a naughty mouth. She certainly filled a bra: could have put books on that shelf. She seemed to be an earthy, outgoing sort of person. I can sympathize with his loss, although I had no idea what their relationship history may have been.

Bill wants to talk to someone this morning, a peer that hasn’t heard all about it before, and I’m the guest or the victim of the recitation of his poignant history. Briefly – he is alone and lonely. During the several months of Beth’s illness he became the resident help. She wanted to die at home, and there was little hired help available. He started in as caretaker with some reluctance but as it progressed, it became a very meaningful activity. It brought them together in a manner that had been missing. As it became apparent that she was dying and was not going to recover, he could at least make her more comfortable; adjust the pillows, provide oily massages, bathe her, monitor her status, sit and talk, and admire her bravery in the face of death.

As the inevitable end approached, Beth became significantly weaker and Bill’s chores became more complicated and required more lifting. Beth could no longer sit up in a chair, or walk to the bathroom, for instance. Bill was 66 at this time, and his back began bothering him, and sciatica in the right leg developed, coupled with carpal tunnel problems, reducing the strength of his grip. While he was out on a shopping trip, she expired. He missed her passing, and spent months in mourning depression with reduced physical abilities.

Bill’s doctor suggested that he might benefit from some therapeutic massage to relieve the sciatic pain. Bill had fond memories of his attempts at massaging Beth – she enjoyed his ministrations despite his ignorance in technique. He began going to a Massage establishment located in a mini-mall a mile or so away. It was part of an adjacent chiropractic clinic. Every couple of weeks he would receive treatment, however after a few visits the Therapy Center changed ownership and became more of a spa, with a wider variety of services. In his view it was becoming frou-frou and woman oriented. He became uncomfortable about his attendance although his sciatica continued to inhibit his walking.

Beth and Bill had occupied the house for 20 years, their two kids went to high school, and one of them went on to college, tuition free at UPS. One is now back east happily married and the other, his son, is lazing about down in northern California involved in some marijuana growing enterprise. Bill doesn’t approve, but what can he do? His son is living with a very unusual lady: she makes the movie star that played Olive Oyl look voluptuous. They have been a couple for several years. Bill just doesn’t get it; she’s nice, but incredibly thin. “You could whittle a more voluptuous figure out of a yardstick.”

As the kids abandoned the nest, Bill and Beth got a dog and fenced the yard. The evening drill was that he would walk the leashed dog as dinner was being prepared. He would set out, rain or shine, umbrella, heavy coat, or shorts and tennies. Whatever the weather he and the dog went on the constitutional, and he’d talk to the dog about his day, about the damned boss, that crappy job, the idiots he had to put up with, politics, and plans for the future. On the way home he would have a plastic bag of warm dog poop in his pocket – his reward.

Several months after Beth passed, the dog escaped the yard. The fence had become quite weathered and frail. The dog had never been out of the yard unleashed and unsupervised. The dog was hit by a car within a hundred yards of the hole in the fence. Bill hauled the carcass to the local vet, but the dog had to be put down. Now he was really alone.

Every aspect of the house reminded him of better times, when life had some order and made sense. He and Beth had planned on traveling but he didn’t want to travel alone. A realtor that was a neighbor down the block approached him and offered to take care of the sale of the house. In very short order the house was sold for almost twice its appraised value.

A nice young family moved in. This was just before the entire economy crashed. Bill didn’t want to carry the contract so he took the money and bought CD’s at 4% at the bank that financed the deal. A few months later this proved to be the best investment he would ever make. Before a year had passed the nice young family had lost the house, the realtor had lost his house, several former neighbors were – and still are – in foreclosure of one sort or another.

He now lives in an apartment building often occupied by students. It is a small apartment but he has been there for several years and has become acquainted with a few of the other residents, all much younger. None of them expect to live there long – they are starting life as adults and he is at the other end of a lifetime. He has become quite fond of some of his fellow apartment dwellers. However, a month or so ago there were police swarming the place. Amber, one of his favorite fellow tenants was in a domestic abuse altercation. Amber’s boyfriend had been in several forms of trouble, and in this instance he was drugged or drunk or just obstreperous and bruised the young lady. The young man stormed out, only to be intercepted shortly thereafter by the police.



Amber decided to go live with a friend, Diana, to recreate her life and find another place to live. As a lovely young lady she will soon find a new beau. This was all very sudden, and, damned fool that Bill may be, he offered to help her move. Many boxes had to go down three flights of stairs into to awaiting vehicles. She had recruited a couple of additional porters and fueled them with pizza and beer.

Bill was coming up on 70 and while he still felt hale and hearty, by the end of the move he began to feel pain in his back and leg, despite the mystic curative powers of delivered pizza. The next day he was in significant pain in the small of the back and the sciatic nerve running down the right leg was excruciating. Despite the Advil and Aleve and Aspirin, he once again started thinking about massage. The place he attended several years ago is now a lady’s fitness spa, but not far away is a small occupational therapy massage parlor. The suggested treatment was $50, which seems reasonable considering the level of pain.

There was none of the hot stone, acupuncture, candles, and soft music ambiance. The masseuse gave him very vigorous, deep, and painful workouts. After several sessions he was feeling significantly better, but he continued the treatments. One afternoon after the hamstring/buttocks procedure, he rolled over for the front thigh treatment. He was embarrassed because somehow he was confronted with an obvious erection – the first in many months, years perhaps. He had no idea he was still capable of such a display. The masseuse is a lady in her late 30’s, pleasant looking, but not a beauty, but she has, of course, seen similar phenomena before. She said, “I’ll take care of that for you, if you wish.” Before he could decide what to say, she had the towel off him and proceeded to apply creamy lubricant and stroked it up into as stiff a rod as he’s had in decades, and soon he shot off a load in the air. He is excited – surprised. He had no reason to expect the handjob, no reason to think that it would be possible.

As he dressed to leave, she said, “I don’t usually perform that service, but I saw your need and was glad to help you with it, but normally I charge an additional $50 for that service. If you want it in the future, schedule a bit more time and expect the extra fee.” Bill was suddenly confronted with a slight problem, his leg was still bothering him a bit, but now he has two legs bothering him, one short and stubby, and the other to walk with.

Bill decided to continue with the treatments for a while. The extra expense was manageable, and the pleasure of it undeniable. After several episodes she offered to introduce him to a special ‘prostrate massage’. This would involve crouching face down on the massage table, with his ass in the air. She would wear gloves and with lubed fingers slid into his anus she would gently exert rhythmic pressure on the prostrate gland. Her other hand would be slowly massaging his erect penis, dangling down. It is similar to milking a cow teat. His discharge would be onto a folded towel. He is tempted as this may be utterly, exquisitely, exciting.

I’m not shocked by this talk, but he is clearly concerned. He assures me that he never cheated on his wife. He was almost a virgin when they married, and she was likewise close to being a virgin. They were happily married for 50+ years and they had what he thought was a full and rich physical experience. It never occurred to him that a woman, his wife, might give him a hand-job and he had never heard of a prostrate massage. Suddenly he is upset and unexpectedly lonely and horny. For all the mutual fondness in the marriage he is now wondering what did he miss? What could they have done? What else were they too uninformed, or reticent, or too hesitant to attempt? He has been awakened in his apartment by the energetic rutting in other rooms. He has heard the shrieking, laughing, grunting, and the bed bouncing, slamming the wall in youthful exuberance. He can’t remember making that much noise with Beth. “These kids today sure know how to have fun.”

After Beth’s death several friends arranged introductions to what they thought might be suitable ladies for him to get acquainted with. There are far more widows than widowers. None of these elderly women were of interest at the time. He didn’t want to discuss flower gardens, diets, operations, and adult children, or grand or even great grandchildren. He was still in mourning – still in a bit of mourning now, several years later. The idea of ‘dating’ and potentially becoming physically friendly with these frail silver haired women just seemed wrong; indecent in fact.

We had entered the realm of chatting ‘mano y mano’ regarding a very personal matter. It is a topic that is rarely discussed. What is an old fart with failing strength and flagging interests to do? What is an old man’s role in life while awaiting death? What, if anything, is to replace the enthusiasms of youth? The old philosophical cliché: ‘A life unexamined is a life not worth living’ is often trotted out as if this was a guide to defined action, but a detailed examination may reveal that the life is not worth a tinker’s damn. Whatever thin gruel of pleasures available for the elderly may be, they may not bear the light of examination – that which one would like to do is probably not possible, mentally, physically, or emotionally. When and if we pause to reflect upon a life well spent, we often find ourselves envious of those that apparently gave life damned little thought, and simply plowed a deep but ragged furrow. If we believe that a life may bear examination, does that mean that death might also need to be examined?

Big Bill and I worked as strangers for the same institution for about 20 years, but in a brief chat in a café, I am suddenly enmeshed in his life. He was troubled and willing to chat about it with a familiar stranger – as unemployed old farts we have things in common. At the moment, he is concerned about the legality of the massage services he has encountered. I don’t have any specific experience to relate, however in my research into the tales of the brothels that were common in the 1800’s through WWII it seems his fears are a bit overblown. After all there are, and long have been, the so-called Asian Massage Parlors that surround nearby military bases, and these humble facilities offer a variety of pleasurable soapy rubdowns and related full-on sexual entertainment. While his current provider is a fully licensed professional therapeutic massage practitioner, there is probably no legal restriction on activities regarding consensual treatments behind closed doors. Were she to place a large sign in the window complications could be created.

At UPS there was briefly an instructor in the School of OT & PT that had a bit of notoriety in the gossip channels. She was a short, outspoken and energetic woman that was conducting ‘Sexual Therapy for the Handicapped’ seminars. She had created her own little booklets, complete with rather amateurish drawings of masturbatory techniques, for instance. Advanced students could sign up for training in the field of Sexual Therapy, and this was a bit of a scandal – young ladies learning to become escorts etc. At this point I wish I had kept one of the booklets as a memento. A movie was recently regarding a young man permanently bed ridden that didn’t want to die a virgin and delegated his mother to find a woman to introduce him to the sensual delights. This is an unfortunate but not unusual situation for an increasing number of individuals living with a wide variety of handicaps. Many wounds, injuries and illnesses in the past killed quickly and surely. Today’s medicine enables survivors to live extended lives: often with seriously circumscribed interaction with others. Opportunities for developing physically intense relationships, even attaining minimal privacy, can be very difficult for the bedridden or for those hooked up to monitoring equipment. Some care facilities try to maintain a community atmosphere for social interactions, but physical romance or mutual sex play is suppressed. While randy free-range teen-agers seem to figure out the physical aspects, instruction and practice may be needed for many of the disabled, paralyzed, or limbless individuals. When Mortimer Snerd, the ventriloquist dummy, was asked if he’d like to sit down in front at the theater he replied: “Gee I don’t think I bend that way.”

Bill had not given such matters any thought whatsoever. Was his masseuse a trained Sexual Therapist or Sex Surrogate? He had no idea. He assumed that a licensed LMT had some sort of professional code, but what did it permit? My guess would be that some LMT’s may engage in these service opportunities and others will not. No doubt there is some controversy regarding such quality of life enhancement treatments. Our fellow citizens with rigid moral or political alignments will object – in their view, tax money should not be spent on providing pleasure to a bunch of handicapped retards in the state funded care facilities. This would be similar to the uproar surrounding sex education or birth control provisions for teenagers. Natural urges are to be suppressed and pleasure is to be controlled, and postponed. People are not animals; the natural expressions are to be socially acceptable and moderate in urgency and expression. The physically challenged should spare us the embarrassment of their clumsy inabilities and be denied the opportunity to express such basic needs. This includes the elderly, who may be suffering from multiple inabilities – some are apparent and others may have emerged so slowly as to be invisible.

God put us here on earth to suffer. We live, we die: life for many is often full of pain and discomfort. A Buddhist proverb: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is not’. All of us have unknown and often undetermined capacities. We have the potential to become characters within our capacities, but at any point in time the sum of our latent abilities are minus whatever happened to us: whatever ensnared and reduced us to our present state. We become whatever we settle for through factors such as boredom, age, illness, genetics, previous unfortunate decisions, or chaos that may be either internally or externally created. There is also the context of the society we inhabit. For a Viking or pirate, the measure of a man was defined by his ability to rape and plunder. In our current society that sort of behavior is reserved for soldiers, but the vast supply of sexual imagery and pornography that permeates many aspects of life has increased expectations in the young.

Bill mentioned some of the changes that have occurred. He is puzzled, confused and feels entirely out of it. His apartment house has many college students as tenants. Recently he was out back placing his garbage in the dumpster. The young adults living there are not noted for their concern with neatness, and there is frequently a bit of trash scattered and milling in the wind. A short time ago Bill noticed some ‘girly’ magazines on the ground – magazines similar to those that created havoc in Steven’s household when the issues were found in Heather’s bedroom.

Bill bent over, picked them up, and casually leafed through them. He was embarrassed to have them. He was afraid someone would see him looking at the naughty bits. He furtively rolled them up and took them back to his apartment to further his studies. He had seen Playboy in magazine racks but had never bought one. These somewhat frayed copies of ‘Barely Legal’, ‘Purely 18’, or ‘Panty Play’ were an eye opener for him. All these incredibly young looking ladies – kids, in his mind – posing provocatively, fondling their bodies. In some features, somewhat older gents with enormous schlongs are ravishing the delicate young ladies. What the hell is that all about? There was simply nothing that explicit available in his youth and now it is everywhere.

Bill is certainly not alone in his confused reflection upon the presentation of sexuality and the very limited experience that he had in his long life. That sort of activity, lust in general, is now long in the past. It was a good life, settled and a bit staid. It never occurred to him to encourage his wife to participate in a threesome, or anal, or vibrator dildos. She didn’t suggest such experiments and looking back he wonders now what her response would have been. Should he have been more aggressive in encouraging variety in sexual activities? How would he have done that when he had no idea that people actually could fit together that way? Wouldn’t some of the depicted activities be uncomfortable at the least? It didn’t seem right or necessary. After all they had been deeply fond of one another, and they managed to have two kids. Wasn’t that what they were supposed to do? Are the girls and guys in the magazine simply momentarily diverted with the novelty of it all? Will this sexualized younger generation end up with the same end result: a calm and fond marriage?

Big Bill’s close observation of the magazines yielded another topic. The young ladies have shaved their naughty parts, occasionally leaving a small decorative patch – a ‘V’ or ‘Star’ or little mustache. He had no idea that women would do such a thing or that it had become fashionable. He remembers a couple discussions with his wife regarding female shaving. When she first went to work, in the early 70’s, as they were courting, she got a prized job with a local manufacturer. Her job was front office receptionist/file clerk and she dressed appropriately in blouse, skirt, and pantyhose. She had to shave her legs and armpits. It was customary at the time. It was a nuisance, a chore. When she transferred to working in the assembly/production area that paid more, she wore blue slacks and shirts provided by a laundry service. She became very intermittent regarding the shaved legs and armpits. Only shaving for dress up occasions once or twice a year. Bill didn’t mind, as long as she was happy.

When they first married he was so inexperienced about women that he was unaware that women actually grew hair that had to be shaved, he was surprised that women were not hairless. Of course she had a wonderful little pubic bush that was one of the joys of intimacy, toying with that tactility. It had not occurred to him, and perhaps not to her either, that the bush could be shaved. It might be trimmed a bit to be invisible in a bathing suit but not shaved clean. Until he found the magazines he had no idea what a vagina looked like. He admits that he was never curious about it either. Most young men just urgently want to get up in there, to hell with the details.

The men in the magazines are often shaved as well, frequently with only a bit of body hair on the chest. I have been involved in gyms and around aspiring bodybuilders and I am thus familiar with the men’s shaving ordeal that involves recruiting a helper or girlfriend to shave the back and other unreachable areas. Some guys find the growing out process very uncomfortable, prickly and pimply, and they may continue the body shave for decades. I’m told that some females prefer the smooth clean body revealing the muscles. I’m also told that other women are quite fond of men’s irregular distribution of body hair. Some men are quite hairy and literally have a pelt. It is a genetic trait.

Many Spas provide depilatory services. There are several hair removal techniques. In the past 20 years or so a heated wax technique has become popular. It is commonly referred to as a ‘Brazilian’. The thick layer of the cooled wax is yanked off the skin removing the hair. I’m told that this is quite painful at first. There is also a laser light beam unit that kills the hair follicles. This is irritating and done in small patches. There are also depilatory creams that remove hair, and of course, there are various types of razors.

Just a bit of research leads to various genital interventions. To my surprise, and I’m sure to Big Bill’s dismay, quite a sizeable number of young demure damsels are paying a premium for vaginal improvement surgery. In some publications the view of the vagina is modified via Photoshop, an easy matter to clean up the vagina by editing the labia lips out of existence or re-tinting them to a lighter flesh tone. This has led self-selected sexually active females to have plastic surgery on these delicate body parts to render the lips smaller, symmetrical and decorative. It has long been possible to have the vagina tightened for a snugger fit, to enhance the sexual sensation. This is occasionally undertaken after childbirth.

Both Big Bill and I are elderly and there is little likelihood that we will ever see a vagina again unless heaven or hell is decorated with them. In our prime it never occurred to us to criticize the aesthetics of an available vagina. Now that vaginas are featured in magazines and porn films we can but wonder: has some group of young men become connoisseurs of the artfully trimmed? Have they decided that the plain old natural vagina is in some way objectionable to their sexual appetites? Have they decided that they are simply not going there? How many men are making comments about how ugly and deformed an individual’s labia seems to be? Are the women undergoing surgery because of rude comments regarding their natural appearance?

By and large, men are ignorant rude low-life, but it will be a shock to no one that the dialogue amongst unsupervised males is often crudely judgmental. The vaginal naughty bits are privileged territory and are only available for assessment to the few intimately invited. Women’s breastworks are covered but apparent, and often the topic of ribaldry among aesthetically sophisticated casual male observers. A significant number of nubile women undergo various surgeries to adjust the size or alignment of their cleavage. Most commonly they are enlarged, quite often very significantly. Some women have their natural sizes reduced because carrying around large breasts can be a chore and result in neck, back, and shoulder pains. Gravity has an effect on the breasts and some women decide to have them surgically lifted to create a more youthful or comfortable profile.

Several years ago I worked out in a gym that was frequented by a college swim team. Their workouts were quite different than mine. They were creating a trim lean muscularity. I would see members of the team occasionally. I became very slightly acquainted with Estelle; a rather small but very fit young lady. Weeks or months would go by without our workouts coinciding. When she graduated, her training for the swim team ceased and she was no longer in the gym frequently. One fine summer day she was back, transformed. She had a ‘boob job’ for a graduation present and had gone from a rather flat-chest to wearing a pair of cantaloupe. Even I couldn’t help but just stare. I have no idea what her aspirations or goals in life were – don’t even know what she was studying, but apparently one of her dreams was to be strikingly voluptuous. One of my co-lifters said: “A whole lot of sail on that little skiff.” In her pneumatic glory she soon disappeared from our gym, probably off to the big city with her new degree and fresh pulchritude.

Surgical enhancements have become quite common. In past decades the primary appearance enhancement was ‘nose jobs’. Young ladies that won the genetic blessing of a beak-like proboscis could have it reduced to the classic ‘Irish’ turned up little button nose. Sometimes this would look out of place with the rest of the features. Facelifts have become more sophisticated and detailed. Even middle class ladies such as Karen’s sister can afford to have a facelift for a more youthful appearance. Body contouring has also become common, often done with liposuction that removes a layer of fat, often around the tummy or ‘love handles’.

Different regions of the world prefer various types of treatments. In the USA the first choice is Botox injections to smooth facial wrinkles, and breast enhancement, but in Brazil it is often buttock enhancement and reshaping. In Korea and Japan there are eyelid treatments to make the eyes appear to be more Western. In the Far East there are also operations for lengthening the legs. The operation must be quite an ordeal: the bones are cut and a gap created. The legs are held in place; full of pins, and a stretcher device holds the legs at the new length until the bone grows over the internal stretcher plates and screws. Months of agony result in several inches of additional leg length. Those that feel their face to be too round can have jaw surgery to narrow the lower face for a more almond shape.

The USA, Europe and Australia lead the way in vaginal trimming, but in some religious groups – Islamic generally – there is brutal vaginal cutting of young girls, cutting away the clitoris and labia. This has a long history and is very slowly being suppressed, although it continues to maim many thousands in surreptitious and crudely executed mutilations within the religious community, often in temples, done by non-professional but experienced practitioners, sometimes with a used razor blade, or broken glass. This is perpetuated through a tangled web of religious belief in the necessity of controlling or eliminating lustful activities, and the male privilege enforcing a joyless loyalty. The victims often are left with serious scarring, lack of physical pleasure, leaking urethra, and difficulties in childbirth from scar tissue.

Men are not immune to body modifications. Many get liposuction, hair implants, Botox, or body hair eliminated. Male models and bodybuilders often have cosmetic surgery to enhance the display of abs, biceps, and calf muscles. Until very recently in the Western cultures, circumcision was universal, supposedly for compliance with religious traditions or in response to largely fictional cleanliness issues. Evolution devised a nicely functioning penis and trimming part of it away seems counter-productive. Some men, aspiring porn stars, have their scrotum tightened to eliminate droopy balls flailing about in the sex act.

There have been recent procedures for men to gain penis size through several types of operations. There have also been several patent medicines that are advertised as penis growth supplements. The fact is that none of these claims have been subjected to rigorous scientific testing and happen to be untrue, but wishful thinking continues. Most men are incapable of fully participating in the sex act by the time they are around 60 or so. Despite all the anecdotal chatter about men in their 80’s remaining randy old goats, the evidence of this isolated performance is damned slim. If this anomaly does in fact exist it doesn’t seem to have led to treatment for those that have already got a dead soldier in their shorts.

For those that feel that an erection is absolutely necessary for their self-esteem, there is an operation in which two flexible inflatable tubes are inserted lengthwise in the penis, and a small air pump is installed in the scrotum. With rigorous pumping the semblance of an erection can be created – an erection that will last until the release valve is activated. The performance reports are mixed. On the one hand it is certainly an erection, and on the other it is generally unsatisfactory because sensation is dramatically reduced. Yes, the gentleman can have some activity resembling sex, but he will feel little if anything.

There is also a vacuum pump device that will yield an erection of sorts, coupled with a contracting ‘cock ring’ to maintain the erection for a few minutes. The vacuum devices are often advertised as a penis enlargement device, which is probably momentarily effective. The vacuum process is uncomfortable to the point of painful, and the cock ring prevents the blood from circulating and is uncomfortable to the verge of painful as well. The erection can, in fact, enable some sexual activity, but the penis is about as sensitive as a sore knee. Most men acquire the pump with high hopes, but after a few unsatisfactory and uncomfortable episodes, they give up in despair. A lifetime of involuntary celibacy is the result.

For gentlemen who are still somewhat functional there are the widely advertised ED medications such as Viagra, Cialis etc. These are somewhat effective during the transitional phase between fully and enthusiastically satisfactory erections and the inevitable dead soldier that leads to solitary morbidity. The ED medications have side effects: achy and insensitive erections coupled with headaches, dizziness, sometimes blurred vision, mouth dryness, etc. Statistically most men find the side effects and the very temporary performance enhancement simply not worth the couple’s mutual frustration as the man’s libido and ability collapses over a matter of several months or a couple years. Patients renew the prescriptions (at $30 a pill) a few times and then resign themselves to their sexless fate. Thus the advertising is relentless as there is no lifetime commitment to the products. New suckers must be recruited constantly to keep the corporate profits in the 50% range. There are also hundreds of bogus supplements containing various vitamin and herbal concoctions. Since there are no regulations regarding ‘natural’ supplements these products can make wildly optimistic lies with impunity.

Most men have significantly reduced testosterone by 40, and many have next to no testosterone by age 60. Personally I have become an expert in testosterone supplementation because of my endless workout schedule at the gym. As a man of 55 I found that the addition of testosterone by injection is the equivalent of getting the windshield cleaned, the world is a brighter and more entertaining spectacle. It does not restore damaged sexual performance, but it does improve the quality of life generally. I have spoken to quite a number of gentlemen about testosterone therapy, but they have each decided that they are not interested, and as the years have gone by their dour view of life and physical deterioration simply continues. This is ‘free’ under Medicare, but they cannot be bothered.


Bob the Catholic

Bob the Catholic

I’m now 73 which is considered an age of full-fledged maturity. At this age, free of many of the compunctions of earlier periods in life, one can pause and consider the aspects of the paths taken, the opportunities missed, and the experience gained. This is a brief pause before the end to review the pluses and minuses of a life inevitably misspent and poorly understood. At my age one has vastly more past than can be made sense of. There is, at the same time, far less future, and whatever the future’s extent, it is sure to provide less time than it would take to actually create a coherent and encompassing worldview.

I have never been an accomplished sleeper. It is a result of being married for over 20 years to a professional schizophrenic; I haven’t slept a solid 8 hours in 50 years. One is never alone with a schizophrenic. The voices and terrors are always awake somewhere, and even decades later I am up between midnight and 4 am, often several times. Frequently these brief periods of wakefulness lead to what the Japanese writer, Mishima, referred to as the ‘nocturnal thoughts’ that plague the intellectuals of the white skinned. I suddenly remember and ponder the fates of acquaintances of long ago at 2 a.m.

Bob - the Catholic

Bob – the Catholic

Bob and I met in our 20’s. We were not really friends, but we would bump into each other and end up talking. He was puzzled at my self-designation as artist. He was a Catholic; that was it. His faith was primary and urgent. He had considered entering the priesthood and he viewed my choice to be an artist to be a similar commitment. He entered Gonzaga University and eventually dropped out – his parent’s fortunes had changed, and he couldn’t afford to complete the degree. In those days there were rather limited student loan and scholarship opportunities. I was freeloading on the MFA program at the UW, which while it seemed difficult at the time it now seems to have been an easy but fluky glide path.

Occasionally there are incidents in life that make this seem quite a small world after all. More than a decade later our paths crossed again. We were in similarly dissimilar circumstances progressing through life in age-categories. At that point we were both married, we both had a kid, we were employed, fit, healthy, broke, and wondering about the future. His primary concern was keeping his kids in private Catholic schools – kindergarten and second grade, but the costs are endless. He and his wife were very involved in the church. He was attending a morning service daily.

He was struggling in some ersatz partnership enterprise that had drifted into legal trouble on some contracts. The legal bills were eating them up. The future was tangled and uncertain, but his faith was pulling him through.

In contrast, my first wife was drowning in schizophrenia and I had spent several years on welfare. I had finally gotten a job through a casual acquaintance and a sense of desperation. I had to get out of the house – she was driving me crazy. My dream of an art career or becoming a teacher had vanished in the mayhem. The yearning remained, but my ability to produce art-like objects had dwindled, and my confidence in execution was near zero. Someday, who knows when, but someday.

We exchanged addresses and I sent him an Xmas card. It was not reciprocated, and the next year I sent another but again with no reply. I didn’t give him another thought for about 30 years, but on this tiny planet our paths crossed again. I would not have recognized him, but he spotted me, and we spent the afternoon in a café with coffee and talk.

His business of long ago had sunk like a stone. He had started over and was now more successful. However, one of his children had been killed in a pedestrian/traffic incident. The child’s death was neither parent’s fault in any way, but the death changed his wife and they drifted apart. Shortly thereafter his wife left him. They were still married, but she lived in another state. As Catholics, divorce can be complicated and he was still sending her support money.

The remaining child completed Catholic high school while living with the mother, but a private college education couldn’t be provided. The kid went to a state university, but that proved to be more than could be paid for. The kid soon drifted into serious student loan debt and then dropped out to work and didn’t return to school. At that time the kid was employed as some sort of factory worker back east, sharing an apartment, smoking dope, goofing off, still living like a teenager despite being in his 30’s. The father and child have an uneasy relationship, not close but far from strangers.

My life had improved. I was with Karen, which was the best thing that ever happened to me. We had a house and my kids were off in the world struggling, but surviving. I was starting to dabble in painting again.

He and I were in our late 50’s at this point. He inquired about my artistic commitment. That obsession had become undefined and amorphous; I was a weekend warrior in the Arts with little pretence and no prospects. He brought up his Catholicism and how he had come to reassess his engagement with the faith. He no longer went to church: just occasionally. He still believes, but he just can’t sit through the services and the rites. He felt like an impostor in the Church. It no longer felt right and he can’t remember what prompted him to take it all so seriously. He can’t remember just why it was so important, why he was compelled to spend so much time in the Church. He has lost the script and can’t remember the character he used to be in his youth which nevertheless seems just moments ago.

The fire flickered out after the kid was killed and the wife left. He got counseling, consulted the pastor, prayed on it, went through a period of agony and loss, but just could not get the kindling to ignite. He misses the church, but can’t bear to go there, it all seems empty of meaning.

Both he and his wife are living in sin, still married but living with others. He was introduced to his current lady on one of his rare church visits. It was a lucky but accidental meeting. I pointed out to him that we all meet our friends through accidental circumstances. He has not seen his wife for a couple decades nor met her gentleman.

He and his lady are content. He felt that she’s a bit too churchy, but they have a mutual agreement to not talk about it. She thinks he will ‘come around’ and re-engage with the church, and he wishes she would not be so damned diligent about attendance. As is befitting a couple in their late 50’s, they cuddle and comfort one another and life together is pleasant but not impassioned.

Of course things look calm from a distance. The aesthete’s phrase from Victorian times “Distance lends enchantment to the view” carries over to our view of casual acquaintances’ lives. His profound and unshakeable conviction seemed similar to my own obsession with the arts. If we judge the street traffic from a 20-story roof, peering over the edge, the general flow of traffic on the roads below is visible, but the details are not. The movement is apparent.

Recently I have been brooding about the nature of obsessions, or callings. Our culture suggests; “Many are Called, but few are Chosen”. It is not at all uncommon to notice that many individuals have obsessive behaviors and beliefs. I’ve not seen much of the world, but even to a person doing solitary it can be a source of astonishment. Despite my limited experience, I could go on for pages outlining the obsessive beliefs and dreams of the handful of people I have met. My Catholic acquaintance seems conventional and mundane. In his youth he must have been what is often referred to as ‘a pill’. I recall him discussing how difficult it was in high school because he had all these service obligations. There were morning prayers, and evening meetings, and the weekend was filled with rehearsals and services. He couldn’t participate in athletics because of his inability to attend practice, and he found the youthful vulgarity of the locker room offensive.

There is only so much time in a day, and life can get quite complicated. As adults we get entangled in all manner of distractions and necessities. An obsession needs frequent burnishing and there is often not enough time and energy to adequately re-enforce the compulsion. The maintenance of the ideal can be so strenuous that it often seems a heroic endeavor, perhaps one compelling admiration – the maintenance of a counterproductive enterprise despite the assault of obligations and reason. Most of these obsessions have no prospect of paying off in fame or fortune or transcendent spiritual episodes.

I had the good fortune to be married to a big league full-time professional schizophrenic for a bit over twenty years. In good conscience I can’t recommend this as an intellectual exploration of the ramifications of the wonders of the human mind. There has long been the observable fact that mental disorders seem to run in families, often skipping a generation, but leaving a trail of chaos that can extend for centuries. Recent research involving brain scans and genetic DNA tracing has begun to reveal the wide yet limited scope of human variation. These so-called aberrations are linked with traceable combinations of genetic coding. Brain scans now demonstrate the variations in ‘wiring’ that can be rendered visible. These variations have probably been distributed relatively constantly among humans for ages. The wide range of diversity of abilities and perceptions has played a role in evolutionary success. Increased diversity yields a variety of outlooks yet enables a level of social cohesion.

There is a bit of comfort acknowledging that some individuals are simply born to be obsessive. The compulsions often become apparent around puberty: a time of emotional turmoil and a period of self-definition. Parents are frequently not attuned to their offspring, and much of the advice from adults is incoherent and spotty.

“If only I had listened to my parents, I wouldn’t be in this fix!”

“Well!…What did your Parents say?”

“How the Hell would I know? I never listened to those crazy old bastards!”

“It is unfortunate that there are bad men and bad dogs, but on the bright side, a good man is not an angel and a good dog is not a man.” – C.S. Lewis

My father, George, was in many ways a good man. He was not an educated man. He had, perhaps, an eighth grade education – such as it may have been in the late ‘20’s. When in his cups he would brag of never having read a book, which was not quite true, but it was true in the spirit of Jimmy Durante’s doggerel song “The day I read a book”. My dad was co-owner of the Polar Bar and was proud that he didn’t work for wages. This was a frequent topic in Nome, a legendary land of the bold and adventurous. “Only a damned fool works for wages”, he often stated. That was a caution to the young, and it was often repeated amongst the miners, dreamers, hard scrabble entrepreneurs and thrashing losers that ended up in Nome. Nome was right near the edge of the earth. Nome wasn’t right on the edge, but you could see it clearly from there. There was nothing beyond what you could see.

While it is possible to find this philosophy in the world today, I believe it is no longer as common; so many small businesses have gone down in the ‘Recession’. Riches have become a quickly receding illusion. Among the laboring workers, the wage slaves, it is common to view jobs as “eating shit all day and hoping for more tomorrow.” Whatever the higher aspirations of the circle of adults that a young person may observe, many of the dreams of youth are crushed by simple greed and self-serving wrong headedness on the part of the adults in charge.

As a youth there is no method of assessing the depth of one’s future abilities or interests. In the process of nurturing these talents, there is very little honest appraisal. A college athlete can easily assess the caliber of an individual performance. Within the Arts it is quite common to be thought talented and to work hard and long to realize a dream, only to fail; and to fail for reasons that are far from clear. The list of variations that lead to failure are many; born in the wrong decade, in the wrong city, missed opportunities, missed connections, distractions, accidents, changes in health, family problems, wrong turns, bad advice, errors in judgment, or the wrong lessons learned. In the Arts, the success is often fleeting, lasting but a few years, despite decades of long work and little recognition. In the Arts it is possible to receive a tad of local acknowledgement among friends and peers, but being ‘Good’ is adequate only for family and friends. They are encouraging but clueless on the sidelines. A higher level of excellence is expected of those receiving wider recognition. I think it may have been Mark Twain that was afraid that Heaven is filled with enthusiastic amateur musicians playing their favorite tunes poorly and endlessly.

No one counts those that give up in despair and berate themselves for decades.

Graham Greene wrote of the priest, waiting to be executed by the firing squad: “It would have been so easy to have been a saint”, but that is only in retrospect. In the process of living among the living it is not at all neither a simple matter nor a clear path to attain a defined success.


Great-great Aunt Edna

As my first wife – Jan – began her plunge into schizophrenia, my sainted mother briefly mentioned that in her family there had been a relative: a renowned healer of ‘Hysteria’.  My mother, Margaret, was a person far from impressed by the ‘wu’ of any spiritual healer or what we now call alternative medical treatments. She was no great fan of doctors and the medical profession generally. She lived to 93 in defiance of much of contemporary medicine. Margaret’s lack of respect for doctors was coupled with no respect whatsoever for psychiatrists. Jan’s eventual diagnosis of pre or postnatal depression was ridiculous in her view, as was the encompassing schizophrenia. Jan simply needed to get her act together and focus on the important aspects of child rearing. After all, what good was a diagnosis if there was no cure? The diagnosis was just an excuse for misbehavior.

Aunt Edna app 1910

Aunt Edna app 1910

The information that Margaret provided was brief, vague, and dismissive. In the early1930’s Margaret was off the farm and in college (Wazoo). She was working as a maid/housekeeper with no support from the family farm in Prosser. She was desperately trying to complete a teaching degree in hopes of evading the life of her parents; trapped in endless heavy labor on a perpetually failing minimum income farm. Both of her parents were college educated and her father was considered a ‘genius’, equipped with a photographic memory. In Mother’s opinion: “The most impractical man she’d ever met.”

Her reference to Aunt Edna was just a few sentences. Edna had set out to become a medical practitioner/doctor. She had been inspired by the medical corps’ role in the Civil War and tales of Florence Nightingale. Walt Whitman, among others, had written of the appalling circumstances regarding the treatment of the wounded and dying soldiers; many died of infections such as gangrene and other diseases caused by lack of provision for sanitation. Every town had veterans; most families had losses. As in most wars of the era, it has been estimated that about 25% of the troops were infected with STD’s. There was no effective cure and little emphasis on prevention. Those too sick to fight but ambulatory were simply released to walk home.

The Civil War was over in 1865, about 20 years before her birth. Edna would have been approaching adulthood around 1900. There had been some money in that branch of the family, but as occurs today, there were recessions and bankruptcies and swindles and fraud. The Aunt had to drop the dream of being a college educated medical professional. She became involved in the Kellogg dietary/exercise/ treatment franchise. Kellogg was a bit of a shyster, and offered mail order courses which could be completed in weeks and which lead to certifications as Practitioner or Doctor.

Upon certification, my Great Aunt was employed at the Kellogg Sanitarium in Battle Creek Michigan. The Battle Creek Facility was a supervised live-in treatment center that featured a strict vegetarian whole grain diet, rigorous exercises, and frequent and dramatic enemas. Upon arrival, a participant was given an individual assessment and a dietary and treatment regime.  The sanitarium itself would seem Spartan for us today; it was clean, airy, and austerely elegant. Various additional services were offered such as: brisk hikes, interpretative dancing, mud baths, coldwater drenching, abrasive body rubs, and hot oil massages. There were special treatments in mechanotherapy, electrotherapeutics, and manipulative therapies (often recommended for what was referred to as ‘Hysteria’).

The patrons of the Kellogg Sanitarium were well-to-do upper class white people, predominantly women. Within that class there was great refinement and repression. Many women of that time and class led what we would consider incredibly sheltered lives. Marriages were often arranged, and there may have been little consultation on the part of the soon to be wed couple. They may have been formally introduced and perhaps had some brief chaperoned conversations. Marriages based upon our contemporary sense of romantic love were not unknown, but married life could be more commonly characterized as love shaded heavily by factors such as loyalty, partnership, mutual regard, or dependency, rather than passion.

An excerpt that illustrates the arrangements of the upper middle class of the time from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’:

Gwendolen announced her informal engagement to her mother; Lady Bracknell, and the good lady replied: “Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself….I have always been of the opinion that a person desiring to get married should either know everything or nothing…..I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”

Divorce was difficult and not common.  Women often died in childbirth; or from infections, or diseases such as the flu, small pox, polio, or diphtheria. Diseases that we have become unaccustomed to in our era would often decimate entire communities. It was not uncommon for survivors (often men) to remarry several times.

In 1900 the world population was about 1.6 billion, and today it is almost 7 billion. In 1900 most people in America were directly involved in agriculture of some sort, living rurally and either farming or distributing farm products. Today most people live in cities and have a wide variety of employment opportunities: hardly anyone is a farmer in the old sense. Living in a town or small city in 1900 provided few opportunities to meet a variety of suitable mates. The entire social atmosphere, particularly for upper class women, was circumscribed. In 1900 many people didn’t get more than 100 miles from their birthplace although the intercontinental railways made travel safe, common, and inexpensive. It could be a huge adventure to travel the Mississippi on a sternwheeler, for instance. For many, such an episode would be the trip of a lifetime.

Men were encouraged to go out in the world and had many more opportunities to create a life of rich experiences. Many upper class men enlisted in the Civil War for the sport of it, as a way to burnish their resume. The same phenomenon was repeated with the Gold Rushes and massive land sales that accompanied the westward expansion of the railroads. The popular phrase “Go West, Young man!” was literally an invitation for adventure. Go out and seek one’s fortune and return to civilization with restlessness satiated.

A suitable marriage could always be arranged later. A gentleman had no expectation that his wife would derive significant pleasure from the brutish act of sexual union. Should she be eager and libidinous it may have seemed improper: he had not bartered for that sort of girl. Should the gentleman want to have some fun with the ladies; there were brothels full of women dedicated to providing pleasure. For example, one of Seattle brothels was notoriously referred to as the “House of Holes”. In Seattle in 1900 there was a brothel with 500 rooms, advertising 500 ladies for a man’s delectation, delight, and daily service. In good weather some of the ladies would be on display riding in horse drawn carriages through Pioneer Square. They would hand out discount cards to interested bystanders. Seattle had a population of about 85,000 at the time, and an estimated 2,500 ‘ladies of leisure’. A gentleman of the time could easily have his unfortunate lustful urges satiated. The brothels for the working class and those in the mercantile trades were priced accordingly. But a moneyed sport of the time could maintain a courtesan, sometimes referred to in those days as a grande horizontale.

It is difficult to assess what the realm of sexuality may have been in the past, and what it may have been for individuals in various economic and social environments is a bit of a guess. Even today in our supposedly more enlightened era there is considerable variation in physical relationships. After all, some people are colorblind or tone deaf, and in the sensual physical realm there are those for whom sexual joys are a primary aspect of life, and there are those that simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.

As an example of men’s general boorishness: one of my peers, a long married gent that spent part of his 20’s in the military in Korea, is somewhat bewildered at today’s highly sexualized society. He knew ‘damned little’ about sex until he was stationed in Korea. He shared an off-base apartment with a couple other guys, and they employed a ‘moose’ – a Korean young lady that did the shopping, laundry, some cooking and housekeeping for them in return for what sounds like spare change. She also would fellate the young soldiers should the need arise. Prostitutes were readily available in local bars. When he got back to America he found to his consternation that fellatio was not at a commonly available practice, and upon marrying his high school sweetheart, he discovered that she had never heard about nor would consider such an activity. They managed to have three kids, so in his mind he was a perfectly adequate husband. “All this sexy advertising and movies, who is all that for? All this talk about how to turn someone on, and orgasms: what the hell? I did my job, got her pregnant! What is there to learn? We had sex every month or two, and I suppose that as a young man I got an hour’s experience every year. I guess she was happy enough, she stuck with me for 50 years.”

The status and autonomy of women has dramatically changed in the past couple of centuries. Up until the 1890’s the age of consent was as low as 7 in Delaware, and 10 or 12 in most other jurisdictions. It was not raised to 16 or 18 until the 1920’s. The Social Purity Movement that started in the English speaking countries around the 1860’s brought about this age-awareness change. Social Purity became the Women’s Temperance League. It was an outgrowth of the Abolitionists, and spread out into areas of Temperance, Prohibition, anti-prostitution campaigns, and eventually led to the Women’s Suffrage activities that resulted in women being enabled to vote – thus becoming equal citizens and no longer mere property of men.

Kellogg and other entrepreneurs were swimming in the Social Purity stream. Right thinking believers were introduced to proper exercise and the consumption of whole unprocessed Biblical foods – each bite was to be chewed 30 times to ensure mastication. Healthy vegetarian fare coupled with vigorous colon cleansing ensured regularity that was said to be spiritually invigorating. It purified not only the body, but also the mind and spirit as well. Libidinousness and physical expression of animal spirits would be brought under control, at last. It was hoped that the introduction of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Wheaties et al would dramatically reduce the consumption of customary breakfast animal products such as eggs, bacon, or ham. Better behavior was sure to follow.

The diet of the majority in the 1800’s was execrable by today’s standards. There was little refrigeration – blocks of ice. Canning was a recent technology and often tainted. Farmers might eat relatively well on the farm, but horse drawn wagons were slow, and produce and meat was often not considered worth the trouble of delivering to the cities. Live animals were hauled into neighborhood butcher shops, and some would advertise meat as “Fresh Killed Daily”. Chickens and other fowl were often purchased live and slaughtered at home, or selected for the butcher to slaughter. Sanitation was often non-existent through the First World War. During the Depression the Dept of Agriculture was attempting to educate rural citizens in the advantages of remote outhouse locations, boiling water for sterilization, hand washing during food preparation, etc. The military greatly improved the general health of the citizenry by training soldiers to bathe regularly, and to receive inoculations, and rudimentary basic first aid. The returning soldiers brought this training home. While the theory of germs had been developed in the early 1800’s, it had little influence in daily life or the field of medicine until WWII. My uncle Roy, hale and hearty in his 20’s, died in the early ‘40’s from a routine appendectomy and the massive infection that followed the operation that was performed on the household kitchen table by a local family doctor. My grandfather held the lamp, and grandmother provided hot water and towels.

Fruit, corn, potatoes etc were often more profitably sold as ‘potable spirits’: cider, and versions of whiskey. There was little or no control over how these widely consumed products were distilled until after Prohibition. Whiskey, beer, or wine, were considered a safer drink than water. “In Wine there is Wisdom, in Beer there is Freedom, but in Water there is Disease.” Vast amounts of alcoholic beverages were consumed from childhood on. Much farm produce was fed to hogs. The large hunks of hogs were brined and smoked: sold as ham, bacon, trotters etc. Once thoroughly brined and smoked such treated meats were relatively safe, even if hauled miles in ox drawn wagons. Carcasses were rendered for Lard. Dairy products such as fresh milk were uncommon, but sharp and/or highly odiferous cheeses were available. There were frequently outbreaks of food poisoning.

In heavily industrialized areas such as London, in which children of five were often employed in horrible conditions, the health of adults was not good, and life expectancy was perhaps 40. Infant mortality was common and in many areas only about one out of 6 children would survive to age sixteen. A recent article regarding longevity mentions a survey of 1840 regarding cultural longevity – Sweden was considered to be an unusually healthy country of the time, however the average age at death for Swedish women was only 45. That has now increased to eighty-three. There has been a dramatic increase in the efficacy of medicine, with preventative measures such as inoculations, and treatments. In the industrialized countries, childbirth is far less dangerous for both the mother and the child. Despite the pride many express regarding the current state of American medical facilities, we are far below other nations in children’s survival rates, and overall longevity is a decade less on average than many other countries. Contemporary medicine now attempts to ‘compress morbidity’ and thus postpone ‘senescence’, the inevitable physical and mental collapse, into a shorter period of a life.

While the Kellogg regime would seem limited and coarse today, it was an advancement at the time, but only available to the upper class individuals. They could sign up for treatments of varying lengths, a week, fortnight, a month perhaps, and return to city life refreshed, invigorated, and renewed in spirit.

There was longstanding medical evidence that proper women were perhaps incapable of physical pleasure from sexual activities. Intercourse was for procreation and the necessary siphoning of men’s lamentable need for physical release. Since women did not regularly release liquid during intercourse, and rarely expressed any enthusiasm for basic and feverish rutting, it was a topic of debate among medical practitioners whether proper women were capable of sensual desire or sexual pleasure. It came to be believed that fluids built up and captured by the womb might cause a woman’s Hysteria. Discomfort or disease might also be caused by a uterus that was too light due to lack of bodily fluids, thus the floating womb was thought to shift location and cause distress. Intercourse might ‘moisten’ the womb and facilitate blood circulation, however activities such as enduring the indignities of the marriage bed were thought to be less than pleasurable and an inadequate treatment for those women afflicted with Hysteria.

Skilled manipulative therapy by trained practitioners could assist in releasing the internal womb pressure. It was observed that educated and refined married women often wearied of their husband’s overindulgence in sexual intercourse and that caused congestion of the female genitalia. Women’s reproductive organs were looked upon as “a veritable swamp, rife with pathogenic miasmas”.

Hysteria was a uniquely female complaint and was generic. Anything from headaches, fatigue, fainting, dizziness, lack of appetite, bad dreams, almost any ailment could be diagnosed as Hysteria. There were a wide variety of treatments available such as laudanum, herbal tinctures, invigorating tonics, breathing regimes, and physical exercise. In the 1850’s a form of digital manipulation of the nether regions became an increasingly popular treatment option. There were Doctors and clinics in the big cities that specialized in this service.

Aunt Edna began providing this treatment at the Kellogg Sanitarium. A Doctor that specialized in the service had trained her. It had become so popular that additional practitioners had to be recruited. The patient would often be fully clothed and recline upon a comfortable waist high bench with heel cups to elevate the knees. As best I understand, the treatment often included an initial upper body massage: the compressing of the rib cage and diaphragm to get the patient breathing deeply. This was occasionally coupled with what we would think of as CPR, direct mouth-to-mouth air exchange. After the preliminaries, the doctor would sit and reach a hand up under the skirt and massage the clitoral and vaginal areas until some curative Hysteria energies were released.

This was not viewed as a sexual act. Sex involved penile insertion by a husband or lover. Women that were afflicted with Hysteria were considered to have a serious medical condition that could be relieved with digital manipulation by skilled practitioners. Even the most skilled digital administration was often unpredictable, which made appointment scheduling a nightmare. One distressed female might require a full hour of energetic effort and another may experience relief in just a few minutes. Prolonged diligence put the doctor at risk of hand cramps or even the development of as yet undiagnosed carpal tunnel. The busiest clinics often trained midwives or nurses to take over the seemingly endless chore of a parade of women patients suffering from Hysteria. No one wanted this boring and fatiguing job. After all, the husbands had done their duty and were not about to take on additional chores that were best delegated to skilled and certified specialists.

Some enthusiasts for the treatment felt that only a woman practitioner could fully understand and bring forth the complete release of the tensions of pelvic congestion that was causing the Hysteria. Men might be unsympathetic or clumsy in their ministrations. There were special prescriptive ointments compounded for the purpose. Soothing oils were often coupled with mint, lavender, eucalyptus, ginseng, willow bark, or occasionally derivatives of opium poppy, codeine, paregoric, and laudanum.

Great-great Aunt Edna evidently had the touch. As her career progressed she added to her repertoire, becoming a labor coach/mid-wife, a general specialist in ‘woman troubles’, and veterinarian. However as the ‘Great Depression’ impoverished her clientele, she was unable to maintain her private practice in Ohio. In that time, displaced family members were often absorbed into relative’s households and farms. My grandparents had a farm in Prosser that was never prosperous, but it was mostly paid for. Edna was in her 40’s, and had quite a background in medicine – such as it was at the time. She took up residence on the farm, briefly sharing an upstairs bedroom. She quickly established a following in the tiny town of Prosser.

She encouraged my grandfather to put in a small field of herbs and poppies. Edna was skilled in the preparation of tinctures – little more than a bit of fruit wine or herbal tea with a dried poppy seedpod infused. At the time, Prosser was basically cash free. There was very little actual money in circulation and as a consequence it was largely a barter society.  Her ability to stitch up an injury, attend a birth, cool a fever, relieve pain, or treat a bout of Hysteria was rewarded with trades and a bit of cash. Ham hocks, a chicken, a haunch of venison, home canned fruit, or some heavy labor on the farm could be exchanged, for instance.

The Great Depression decimated the upper middle class. Suddenly those family units that had money invested in stocks, bonds, or bank holdings were reduced to poverty. It was common for families in these sheltered income categories to have quite large houses, with rooms and facilities for servants such as maids, cooks, cleaners, yard workers, horse groomers, nannies, wet nurses and so on. As is the case today, these support personnel were poorly paid, and had circumscribed private lives – two days off per month, room and board were provided, but the cook prepared special lower cost meals for the hired help.

For millennia the wealthy or powerful had slaves or servants. The exact definition and role of these household or field workers varied. In Biblical times, and within Islamic families today, the role of servants is often disguised as polygamy (multiple wives or concubines). The facility with which the upper classes can obtain maids and household help has been a stultifying economic factor. Since the ‘help’ was on staff anyway, why invest in improved efficiency? However a task may have been accomplished in the past was plenty good enough. Why buy a washing machine for one of the ‘wives’ when she has always done an ok job down at the pond, pounding clothes on the rocks? Servants didn’t need automation. What would they do with the extra time? Given time and energy to reflect upon life can only lead to dissatisfaction.

There was always the possibility that servants would be taken advantage of sexually. In some societies and households this was taken for granted, in others it was forbidden. A maid caught up in a sexual incident could be dismissed in disgrace, or sometimes quietly provided with a bit of a dowry and an arranged marriage with some local. As the railroads connected the American coasts, compromised maids were sometimes given the proverbial ‘ticket to Frisco’ where they were subject to various outcomes, often drifting into prostitution.

My grandmother ‘Steena’ came to America as an indentured servant and worked for 3 years for a prosperous family of German immigrants in Illinois. Upon fulfillment of her contract she traveled to Seattle to be near relatives. She went back to work as a servant. Her cousin, Gerda, was also a servant, but then was in an arranged marriage in what must have been a very minimally pleasurable union. (My mother couldn’t stand ‘Uncle Arnold’, the husband. He was a self-educated domineering bastard, in her opinion.) Upon his death Gerda went back to work as a nanny, working for a wealthy Seattle family for 40+ years. The family eventually arranged a pittance retirement for her. I had a great-uncle that had prospered in America, but he lost it all in the Depression. He said, as he began to prosper again in WWII; “I never dreamed I would again be so rich as to have my own car while being so poor that I have to drive it myself.”

The women of the servant class or the wives of the working class, were not receiving treatment for Hysteria. There was considerable discussion regarding the folly of educating young women in cultural refinement. The young ladies would become unfit as suitable breeding stock, filled with unrealistic expectations of privilege and promised ethereal pleasures. While the father, brothers, or husband of educated and refined young women might disport themselves with earthy and carnal lower class women, the daughter or wife was expected to be of a higher moral character. The physical and carnal could be suppressed through attention to spiritual enhancement. They were supposed to demurely close their eyes and focus upon the ethereal should the husband desire to plow the ‘south forty’. These refined women were to be the regenerators of a less brutish generation of offspring, lessening the slaughter and oppression of the physically feverish.

As electricity was introduced into households, a wide variety of vibrators and electrical stimulation devices became available. The Sears catalog and magazines coyly advertised muscle toning and tension relief devices. Many practitioners sold devices to clients as well. By the beginning of WW II ladies were taking care of themselves. The Hysteria Epidemic of the previous couple of generations faded away. Today there is an entire industry dedicated to a wide variety of vibrators, sometimes referred to as “marital aides”.

In our present state of enlightenment we can scoff at the efficacy and concept of Hysteria with the hands-on manipulated masturbation that today seems ridiculous. But what harm was done, really? A few ladies spent some money on pleasurable relief unavailable elsewhere in a repressive society. The use of poppy tinctures to alleviate anxiety or pain seems quaint today when the vast pharmaceutical industry owns every possible cure for every real or imagined ailment. At present there is a low-key government program to coerce seed sellers to eliminate the opium poppies from catalogs. If one wants to buy poppy seeds today, one must search on-line sources for true opium poppy varieties.

When Margaret briefly spoke of Great Aunt Edna I was experiencing a troubled passage of life and it is possible that I have misinterpreted the few sentences and have created what may be a plausible fantasy scenario. The Seventh Day Adventist cult of whole grains as expressed through the Kellogg Foundation may have been sufficient for Great Aunt Edna to prosper as a practitioner. While in Nome in 2013 I was researching the 1904-’06 era. Jorgen, my grandfather, was in Nome in that period. The local newspaper of the time has been preserved on microfiche, all slightly out of focus. A recurring ad in ’05 featured an “Anna M. Kellogg: Proprietor of Bath and Massage Parlors.” The advertisement’s services are illegible despite my best efforts, but such services and facilities were evidently widespread, even in the most remote areas. There were no similar ads. In 1904, Nome had experienced a serious fire that wiped out a significant amount of the town. One area that was destroyed was the fenced confinement that encompassed several blocks of ‘cribs and brothels’. Anna M. Kellogg may have been advertising additional illicit services, or it may have been legitimate soothing candlelit massages. We have no way of determining specifically what was being offered.

Long ago I was on a work team in which one of my cohorts was a devout vegetarian and he had many similar beliefs as Kellogg. His family were members of an outgrowth of the 7th day Adventist Church, as was Kellogg. A healthy bowel, fully cleansed and regularly producing multiple large, coarse bowel movements every day may go a long way to creating upright posture, a focused mind and joyous personality. My co-worker had not reached a blissful state of mind, but his bowels were a frequent topic of conversation – much as dog owners all too frequently discuss the state of their puppy’s poop.

I went to assist in some car tinkering at his place one sunny day, and felt the need to use his bathroom. As I disappeared around the side of the house, he shouted “Shearsonnahanger!” In the bathroom above the toilet hung a large pair of kitchen shears. The shears were to be used to hack up the massive turds his diet created. In Rabelais the turds of the peasants during grape harvesting season were said to be as solid and as long as the handle of an axe. Grapes were lunch and dinner for the peasants. Breakfast consisted of ‘groans, sighs and coughs’.

Locally we have a very hard working craftsperson with no health insurance. She finally grudgingly admitted that something is wrong ‘down there’ and she went to the doctor and expected a diagnosis of a hysterectomy for fibroids, perhaps. It turned out that she is a few years too late; cancer was eating her insides. If she went in for the chemo and surgery the entire family would be in bankruptcy for hundreds of thousands of dollars for treatment and be rendered homeless. Historically her treatment would have been laudanum or poppy infusion, and she would have passed with minimized discomfort.  In our contemporary medical wisdom the doctors will extend her period of misery for many months, and the family can then go through hardship and bankruptcy to celebrate her misfortune. (She has died, and the family has imploded.)

I came to the Great-great Aunt Edna topic through a chance encounter with Lynn Schirmer, a Seattle artist of considerable facility. I admire her work, and she ekes out a living on art sales and related activities. She had come across recent research regarding the clitoris. Amazingly, this vital bit of female anatomy has not been extensively studied and in many medical books it is passed over: lacking detail, and incorrectly rendered. Lynn decided to create a topical art exhibit regarding the clitoris – coupled with a web site that revealed some of the contemporary research to illuminate the entire show.

I volunteered to create a piece for the show, but began to have misgivings regarding my qualifications to participate. As a professional old fart, what the hell would I know about the topic? I can reflect upon what I should have known, what I could have known had I been concerned. As far as I knew, the female orgasm was invented in the ‘60’s, and my experience was so limited that I still have no clear notion of how all that might have worked, aside from the insight that sometimes amazing accidents happen. In considering the nature of the research for the art show, it occurred to me that all these revelations could make life a lot more interesting for the young adults that might put it to use.

My general idea was that perhaps this scientific information regarding the extent and range of the clitoris would lead to specialized tune up and adjustment centers. This could be a new franchise opportunity with skilled technicians trained in clitoral performance enhancement. It might be similar to the old days when I would invite old ‘Jimbo’ over and we’d drink beer till dark and then get out and tune the Triumph Bonneville until it emitted the exactly perfect blue flame out of the exhaust port.

My line of thought resulted in the 24 X 36 poster that was exhibited. The show was open for a month, but attendance opening night was thin because of bad weather. The show had a lengthy preview article before opening, but little publicity during the event. In my humble opinion, the overall show was lacking in thought and drama. The artwork submitted was mostly by female artists and was decorative but lacking confrontational edge. My work received little or no attention and no comment. Nothing in the show was sold.

I had bought one of the Clitoris T-shirts at the show and subsequently wore it to the gym. One of the gents thought the graphic image resembled the Martian death ray machines in the original “War of the Worlds” movie. I briefly explained the art show and the image.

His response:

“Well I’ve heard something about this clitoris thing somewhere, but I don’t think any pussy looks like that! But what the hell would I know? Its dark in the bedroom! Har, Har, Har”. This loud outburst is from a retired gent with a striking grey haired trophy wife, and four kids by his first wife.

We parted ways and we each moved on to our next exercise.  A few minutes later, Dan approached. He had overheard part of the little hilarity. He also inquired about the graphic image. He recalled a Tantric image that is similar. I don’t know Dan well, and I don’t know much about Tantric studies or beliefs, and had no idea what Dan and Tantric practices had in common.

When I started attending my current gym, my notoriety as an artist preceded me. Dan was, and probably still is, under the popular delusion that being an artist is an opportunity to become involved with lovely models. The dreary fact is that I have rarely been able to afford a model for myself. I have attended dozens of artist group sessions with 3 to 12 artists drawing frantically while encircling the model. Models earn $12 to $20 an hour. It is just a part time job but some models take it rather seriously and show an interest in the eventual artwork. Models are frequently involved in the arts: as artists, dancers, musicians, poets, and yoga practitioners. Models occasionally show up with a friend or lover to act as chaperone. With but one exception in ancient times, I’ve not been blessed with more than a handshake relationship with models.

Dan assumed that I was some sort of libertine and thus a kindred soul. He felt compelled to regale me with some brief stories of his exploits with ladies of the world in such ports as Singapore, Estonia, Sweden, and Viet Nam etc. He had been part of a military flight crew and is currently associated with one of the airlines. We share a bit of an illusion of camaraderie as ‘naughty boys’.

While admiring the T-shirt graphic he talked a bit about how, in his travels, he had recently become a patron of Tantric Massage studios, and that presently he is involved with a Tantric Temple. He feels privileged to be receiving Tantric instruction from a wonderful young lady called something like Mirandananda Dawnstarr who has a Temple near Sumner. The outside of the temple is completely ordinary, but the inside is amazingly decorated and one of the bedrooms has become an expanded ceremonial bathing and warming area. Obviously this has become an important and fulfilling participative activity for him. He offered to serve as a reference for an introduction. She is very selective and newcomers must have references and interviews.

I briefly discussed the Clitoris Art Show and contemporary research and he nodded his head, “Oh, yes, well the Tantric Yoga tradition has long known all of this. The West is so ignorant of the principles of pleasure.” He has recently been instructed in the proper forms of ‘Yoni Adoration’, for instance. He has been considering encouraging his current lady friend to accompany him to the Temple for mutual ecstatic ceremonies. This would involve his girlfriend attending a few solo sessions to enable Mirandananda to evaluate her readiness for prolonged orgasmic experiences.

In a previous month I was introduced to what I suppose is his current girl friend, a quite fit and pleasant looking woman in her late 20’s. To me, her most memorable feature was her smile. Unlike so many of that generation, she had been spared dental braces that result in the manufactured perfect toothy smile. Her smile reveals some slightly crowded teeth with the canines a bit prominent. She probably does not consider her teeth a distinguishing asset, but I found them endearing.

Aside from the brief introduction and subsequent nods of acknowledgement while passing in the gym, I have not had occasion to talk to her. After all, what can an old fart such as I have in common with an energetic young lady? I wonder how far outside the common mould of suburban single mom her sexual interests may extend, it is none of my business, of course. Does she know of his Tantric adventures? Or does she simply benefit from his secret participation?  Has he, in fact, enlisted her in the enlightenment program?

I could sympathize with her apprehension regarding the grading of her level of ability to experience and sustain blissful states. She may be reluctant to subscribe to solo evaluations of her orgasmic capacity. Dan may be a wonderful, satisfying and accomplished lover, but the Tantric mumbo jumbo may be a bit alienating, and the idea of this Mirandananda woman adoring and manipulating her ‘Yoni’ may be too far to go. It would seem tinged with lesbianism, and for many in our repressive society any whiff of same sex pleasuring is forbidden. After all, would Dan be so interested in the Tantric if he was having extended orgasms with a turbaned young man?

As is my nature, I got to brooding about this episode and opened the mentor’s website and checked out a few other sites offering similar services. Many of them list their services as available to: women, men, and couples. That ‘women’ are listed first may be a hint that most clients are women. The websites are not worded in such a way as to imply sex in the manner of the escort ads or Asian Massage Parlors. A large part of the allure may be sensual, not sexual. A long contemplative massage in a spiritual environment coupled with warm oils, candles, incense, and comforting mantras may be money well spent at $200 an hour.

Another group called ‘One Taste’ created by Nicole Daedone specializes in group therapy sessions referred to as “Orgasmic Meditation’. She has also written a book ‘Slow Sex’. There is also a TED Talk in which she explains the philosophy behind the search for a four-month orgasm. The group meetings are an organized informational presentation followed by a 15 minute carefully executed clitoral stimulation period between two strangers; other members of the audience. One part of the meditation requires that the women become trusting of their own unique abilities to experience pleasure in the hands of an unknown individual. This becomes a matter of giving permission to one’s own responses, not with a familiar lover or friend, but with a complete stranger that may well never be seen again.

Since starting this line of investigation my interest has waned a bit, but as I was leafing through a women’s fashion magazine a related reference leapt out.  In ELLE, Sept 2012, is an article regarding a book by Naomi Wolf  (Vagina; A New Biography). I had no interest in reading the article – I was looking for a usable female pose with significant contrapasto. But a sentence suddenly caught my attention in which a Mike Lausada is mentioned as a London practitioner in orgasmic therapy. A quick web search reveals that he offers a variety of counseling and physical therapy programs to enhance and encourage female sensuality. His rates range between 200 and 400 pounds per hour, with multi-hour sessions encouraged.

Other sex or intimacy training is available, for instance; Annie Sprinkle tours the country speaking of the vagina and clitoris. Annie is attempting to educate and inspire women to learn about their bodies and become familiar with their own pleasures, and if necessary, take care of their own orgasms. I gather that she has been conducting these seminars for a couple of decades and the audiences remain small despite advertising and occasional censure in the press. I read somewhere that she has volunteers on stage to show their vagina and demonstrate various techniques and implements for achieving orgasm. One of the displayed procedures is ‘fisting’ in which an entire hand is inserted in a vagina.

Long ago, when pterodactyls soared over the veld, before life went entirely to Hell with my first wife, we became briefly acquainted with a couple that was very involved in Tantra and the newly published Kama Sutra. This was in the era of the downward slide of Hippiedom. We were awash in those that had read a few pages of Siddhartha, Castaneda, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Mayan Astronauts, and the Apocalypse.  All manner of young people were far too earnest about esoteric topics that they, in fact, knew nothing about. This was the beginning of the end of fact based citizen knowledge. Enthusiasm and opinion now rules, and this has led to the vast foolishness we see in today’s politics.

A major societal change has occurred in recent decades. The ‘Great Depression’ and WWII was a very difficult period for most citizens and the result was several generations of hard-living, hard-working, hard-headed skinflints. This time period, which extended up into the early 60’s has come to be viewed as the “Adversity Culture”. Within the Arts this led to a separation between the ordinary citizens and the few that were driven to participate in the Arts. That generation is now dying off and has been replaced by what has been described as “the Screw-around Culture” in which vast numbers of often overly sincere but none too competent individuals have wandered into the Arts.

Looking back, I suspect that this couple had some hopes of us as recruits and participants in their joyous nude temple celebrations.  They were both art students and thus I was unable to avoid them entirely. Jan, my wife at the time, was already on the road to the far country of schizophrenia, although it seemed just creative poetic associations at the time. The sudden infusion of Tantric Yoga jargon was very wearing and disruptive on the home front. A couple of years later the Temple was headlines, it had been raided as a cult which was supposedly a front for prostitution and drug dealing. I have no idea what part was played by my acquaintances.

Christianity, Islam, and many other religions have long disdained the pleasures of the body. The indulgence in the pleasurable, particularly sex, has been considered sinful and not the path to enlightenment. There have been occasional contrary offshoots, but in general, among the staunch believers, sex has been basically for procreation. Backsliders, heathens, pagans and the hell-bound could indulge in guilty play, but the true believer was expected to attempt to maintain a level of uncontaminated purity. Ignorance of the possibilities can control urges. Relationships with no occasion of mutual orgasm can be created and maintained with purposeful ignorance.

While the Social Purity Movement was attempting to create proper thinking and restrained behavior through organic diet and exercise, there was parallel movement elsewhere in the world. One group in Russia took more drastic steps to free the believers of lust. The Skoptsy sect believed that castration would restore mankind to the pristine state that preceded the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden. Men would have their testicles removed and if that didn’t prove efficacious, they would have their penis cut off. Women would have mastectomies, and some had the labia removed. It is estimated that there were at least 100,000 members by 1900. The goal had been an enrollment of 144,000. That number would assure the arrival of the Messiah as promised in Rev. 14:1,4. The last adherents are believed to have died during WWII.

Locally there were a few commune settlements dedicated to a wide variety of experimental social orders. The Town of Home WA was originally a Biblical/socialist order founded in Eatonville that ultimately disintegrated due to divisions between the ‘Nudes & Prudes’. The ‘Nudes’ believed in free love and the ‘Prudes’ insisted on Biblically ordained procreation-only intercourse and restraint in intellectual interests. Elsewhere in America there were the Shakers, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, and hundreds of other sects. Some of these groups were exploring obscure Biblical interpretations, and others were attempting to redefine the ideas of personal freedom, equitable distribution of goods and services, equality between the sexes, the elimination of wage-slavery, and on and on. The crushing burden of capitalism and the oppressive requirement for labor in exchange for poverty and squalor was prompting revolutionary ideas and attempts to create a new and different reality.

We tend to think of the Great Depression as an American phenomena, but it was a worldwide collapse similar in many ways to our present ‘Recession’. WWI brought about great political and economic changes in Europe, the death of millions shattered many of the traditional political notions. The writings of Karl Marx and others supplied the intellectual ferment that led to the attempt to establish more perfect and just communist/socialist systems. Many of the most radical revolutionaries were women, and they insisted that the necessary changes revolved around the status of women. Often within the Capitalist system women are little more than property, slaves to men and treated abysmally.

Early in the revolutionary process questions arose regarding sexuality – were the people to be liberated to follow their urges in the new society or should the new society suppress freedom of physical expression in the interest of familial stability. By the late ‘20’s, despite considerable argumentation, the power of Stalin and Lenin established a repressive regime. Laws were enacted that attempted to define the role of sex as a service of society rather than sex as an expression of freedom within society. Was sexuality a savage and unruly freedom to be a stumbling block to the creation of the new world? Or was this vital animalistic force to be suppressed to avoid the commoditization of pleasure that might squander the energy required to create a more perfect society? In very short order the suppression of individuals triumphed.

In Maoist China the needs of the state clearly came before those of the individuals. A one child per marriage rule was enforced to control population growth. One unpredicted side effect was widespread abortions of girls. There is now a vast oversupply of men with no prospects of ever getting married. The one child program was originally to produce dramatically smaller families, and that worked, however it has also reduced the number of potential families. A similar circumstance has arisen in countries such as India where cheap and easy sex determination tests for babies has led to abortion of girl fetuses to avoid the necessity of the family preparing dowries to marry off the resulting adolescent girls. This social custom of dowries in many castes has made young men valuable and young women a liability, and now there is a huge mismatch between the numbers of young men and women. There are numerous cases of young women becoming prostitutes for a couple of years to earn their own dowry with family approval, and then having their hymen surgically restored to enable the young lady to become an eligible virgin for marriage.

Currently, in America – the home of the brave and land of the free – there are continual attempts at the suppression of information about sex. There are widespread attempts to prevent the presentation of even basic and minimal information regarding the biological facts of human intercourse. Additional information regarding the cultivation of pleasure is forbidden and thus the knowledge and techniques that may provide pleasure is left to the arena of uninformed amateur experimentation or pornography that is now amazingly available. Pornography is most often viewed by young men and is unfortunately primarily oriented towards male dominance.  The lessons learned may lead to insensitive, abusive behavior and one-sided expectations.

Dan, the Tantra man, may be attempting to expand his sensual horizons. His girlfriend may benefit from his refined abilities. I gather that much of his past sexual education was from one-night stands with ladies acquired in hotel bars around the world. I don’t know him well and it is none of my business. I’m not about to inquire, but this absence of fact enables the creation of any scenario we can dream up. It is intriguing to consider that there could be a coherent and detailed educational opportunity to enrich understanding of the more blissful of life’s pleasures. An adult has an opportunity through the Tantric disciplines, but this is heavily infused with ‘wu’, and may be a form of activities related to prostitution rather than education.

The establishment of some form of sensual education or familiarization program would inevitably be problematic. Many parents would be reluctant to enroll their precious pubescent daughter or hormone-laden son in a sexual sensuality program, despite a batch of ‘wu’ woven into the curriculum. Commonly the hands-on aspect of sexuality is provided free in the backseat. The more out-going and energetic, the braver or the more desperate and least guilt-ridden, will figure out the basics. This casual ‘let-nature-take-its-course’ free-range, hunt-and-peck, ad hoc self-education can certainly lead to a lot of fun, and also a lot of anguish. One can proceed through life with nothing but the most basic of pleasures. For the most part that is what our peers and our ancestors have done. As individuals we are all a product of unskilled labor that has been mucking about in a huge experiment in random genetic dispersion since the first squiggles of life in the pond water.  Enthusiasm and ignorance are the commonly essential elements for sexual activity.

We look back at the Hysteria diagnosis and treatment in the previous century, and we can be amused at their perspective, their flawed medical opinions, and the no-fun aspect of these stodgy stalwarts. We would like to congratulate ourselves on how much better informed and smarter and happier and fulfilled we are today in our enlightenment. With the passage of time we will also be looked upon as self-congratulatory fools. If the fervently religious become more prevalent, we will be seen as condemned to hell. Certainly in my disappearing generation, ignorance in sensual and sexual matters was near complete. No one told me anything. It was all a mystery. What little pornography I saw in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s had the nipples, navels and body hair eliminated through photographic retouching. It can be assumed that my parents were told little or nothing, and certainly my parents told me nothing. As a result, I was unprepared to tell my children anything either. What could I tell them? I was far from certain about what I knew.

In the past 50 years or so, there has been some research into this aspect of human behavior. Kinsey and the team of Masters & Johnson made inquiries of common sexual practices, conducted tests, and attempted to define and refine aspects of behavior. Much of their research was published and publicly available, but not widely read or studied; it had little effect upon the standard cultural norms of the times. Women’s sexual response remains a mystery to most men, as best I can determine. Many men feel threatened by women that seem to be sexually independent. The men instinctively realize that they would be into uncharted territory because of their own ignorance and lack of meaningful experience.

Lynn Schirmer’s Clitoral Art Show was a bit of a revelation to the few who saw it. Certainly thought provoking for me as a member of a rapidly vanishing generation. Recently an article briefly described current research into female arousal. Meredith Chiver devised an experiment in which women were shown a wide variety of pornographic images. The women were equipped with a plethysmograph in the vagina to measure blood flow and moistness. This demonstrated a much wider range of responsiveness in most individuals than was personally admitted or commonly thought. A similar test for men revealed how limited their responses were. Women were generally significantly more responsive to a wider range of stimuli than men.

Recently a bit of web media sensation occurred regarding a young Polish lady, Ania Lewiska. She has publicly announced an attempt to establish a Guinness Book record by having sex with 100,000 men. This is not exactly prostitution because she is not charging for the 20 minute service, but expects the men to donate a bit to pay for the hotel rooms, transportation, and so on. She suddenly has a quite long subscriber list of men willing to assist her in this noble attempt. Unfortunately the Guinness Record organization has no category for sexual escapades. Quick research reveals that this accomplishment has been achieved by quite a variety of professional ‘soiled doves’. The Fokken twins of Amsterdam, now in their 60’s, estimate their client count to be in the range of 250,000 each, and one of them is still active.

We have many various cultures on the planet at the moment, and in the past many thousands of years there have been great differences in acceptable behavior – some probably unimaginable to our tiny brains and limited experience. Women have been subjugated and ruled over by men for reasons not all that obvious. Within these tribal and territorial groupings there have been some in which women played elaborate roles within the sexual realm. In others, such as current Fundamentalist Christian and Islamic cultures women are seriously repressed. Despite all reason or common sense they are treated like errant children, laborers, and slaves. In some branches of Islam, women are genitally mutilated to prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure. Some are sold into child prostitution, or marriage far below childbearing age. The stoning of women considered adulteresses is still common, with no legal recourse. Many countries have customs that seem strange, perhaps unthinkable to us, as if we were right. From their point of view we are the strange and outrageous ones.

Technology has now entered the field of sexual possibilities, and ancient Bronze Age religions will find it difficult to maintain their long-standing beliefs. At present it is estimated that in wealthy countries about 1% of births are a result of in vitro fertilization – many couples evidently now prefer to select the child’s gender, race, hair color, and potential IQ or talents from sperm and/or egg donors. This is often coupled with ‘surrogate mothers’ bearing the child. How this technological feat is to be united with the religious notion of god’s will and bounty is yet to be determined. It is estimated that within 50 years 20% of births will be created through in vitro intervention. Vast numbers of birth defects are now detected and pregnancies terminated through everyday screening tests. The do-it-yourself aspect of breeding may rapidly become somewhat obsolete – if ‘parents’ have the money and inclination they can be assured of a higher quality child through science. Why would a ‘parent’ handicap their child by insisting that the couple whittle it out of their own flawed wood?

I suspect that many a woman presently looks at her children and wonders if they wouldn’t be significantly better creations had she been more discerning in the selection of mating material. With the divorce rate at over 50% and the birthrate of ‘bastards’ (children out of wedlock) also over 50%, many parents are saddled with a flock of children of mixed parentage. It must be often dismaying to realize that the genetics of the offspring are flawed to the extent that the children often display unfortunate characteristics of males long discarded due to those very flaws. In my own case there was long concern and now the reality that while little or no sign of mental disorders have developed, one of the kids is chronically suffering from the inherited problem of ileitis /colitis/Crohn’s Disease that is traceable back 150 years.

I have no idea what Great-great Aunt Edna would make of life as it is today. There is no one alive today to confirm or deny whatever her life may have been. Frankly, I also don’t know what to think about life today, or the past, or the future – should there happen to be one. We are all free to pretend that there is reason for optimism. We can be amazed at our very existence. There are numerous misfortunes that plague mankind, but we, the still upright, have momentarily eluded many of them. It won’t continue. There is no medicine for regrets. There’s nothing we can do about time. We await the inevitable erosion of the physical and the collapse of aspirations as we enter into the flatlands of the worn and aged. There is complete indifference to our losses by those still vibrantly living.

The Property Deal

Around ’60 Dad got involved in a property deal with P.O. Swanson and Paul’s friend Gerke (gerkee). Margaret was never in favor of this escapade, but Dad was convinced it was a way to make some serious money. Gerke had a summer cabin dating from the late ‘40’s on some relatively high bank waterfront out past Kingston. He had sold or given some lots to friends and relatives, and soon there was a bit of a community of people enjoying the beach access. It was quite a commute to Seattle – of course times have changed and now people think nothing of an hour and a half drive. Paul Swanson, my Uncle Paul, had thought of getting a plot out there. Picturing a life with Armida, his wife, and Beverly, his daughter (my cousin). However about the time he started to get serious about this endeavor, a rather extensive batch of quite high bank view property was suddenly for sale. It had been a stump farm for a family for a couple generations, but the old man had died and the kids were off into the new world. The farm house at the near end of the lot was habitable but quite run down, There was a small orchard with the fruit trees gone wild, and some of the acreage overgrown with waist thick trunked trees – which was called 2nd growth, but which was in reality 3rd or 4th growth. All that forest had been stripped in the 1880’s and again in the 20’s and once again during WWII when every standing stick of wood was cut down for the war. Waist thick trees would have been growing since WWII.

Gerke and Swanson decided to make some bucks on this, and tried to piece together enough money in loans to buy it. They were a bit short and Dad stepped in and I suspect he mortgaged the Suquamish place to become a partner. Margaret never approved of this venture. The development went on for years – instead of a quick turnaround, they had endless platting, and a water well, and an access road to resolve. The access road suddenly had to meet county and state specifications – a bulldozer track wasn’t going to be ok. And then, of course the housing/property market fell apart as they were pouring money into this get rich quick scheme. All the while, my mother had gone back to work as a teacher full time, and I was heading off to college.

Gerke was viewed as rather wealthy at the time, though by today’s standards he was just a middle class businessman. He had inherited a family music store business in Ballard. As far as I know, he was not musical. The store sold pianos, organs, rental band instruments, a few guitars and drums. I remember delivering a big console hi-fi to the store in ’58. The music business at that time revolved around selling pianos and organs, a few accordions, and an occasional guitar or PA. When I was there I was introduced to ‘Dave’ the stringed instrument guy. Dave had affected vaguely Elvis hair, upturned collar and a Bob Dylan ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ cap. Dave played electric guitar in a band –the name escapes me, but they had a couple regional hits, one of which was ‘Cool Penguin’ (locally pressed on 45’s). The band played at places like the Spanish Castle, and school gyms etc. Dave was in his late twenties, small and cocky. He was to play a key role in Gerke’s fortunes. As the folk music boom hit in ’58-’60, the piano-accordion sales plummeted, but Dave ran the guitar department and suddenly there were dozens of spruce topped acoustic guitars and as the Beatles arrived, a plethora of distinctive electric guitars and amps. The store was briefly headquarters for cool gear, and high profits. By the mid-‘60’s every dime store and loan shop was selling schlocky Japanese guitars, but Gerke’s had a brief lock on Fender/Gibson/Gretsch. As a result of this cultural change, Gerke was significantly better off for a while.

My Uncle Paul is a bit of a mystery to me. He was married to Armida, my father’s older sister, and Beverly was their daughter. Thinking about it now, it seems an odd little family unit. Beverly was treated like a princess, and many a tale was told about how wonderfully bright she was and how perfect her homework was and so on. She is 3 or 4 years older than me. She had been born hairless (through Caesarean, I think) and had, for a long time only a wisp of extremely thin blond hair, which was a constantly retold tale. In adolescence and in college she was quite a striking and attractive young lady. She had one wandering eye, a bit cross-eyed, which had been operated on a couple of times. I recall her wearing an eye patch for a while. She was involved in the Lutheran Church to a much greater extent than Paul or Armida. The retold tale of Paul in church was one Easter after the service, there is a bit of a crowd milling around slowly making an exit. Everyone has to shake hands with the Pastor, so it is slow going. And Paul loudly says, “Who the hell is holding up the line? I’ve got to pee!”

I don’t know much about Uncle Paul’s history. He bragged once about his job in a large hardware store in the ‘30’s. He had been one of hundreds of applicants and managed to talk and bluff his way into the job. He would have been in his early-twenties. In a photo of him at about that time, he was a quite good looking stocky young Swede, the son of immigrants, just like Dad and Armida et al. Somewhere during WWII he became a bit skilled in electronics. In my acquaintance with him, he was an eager tube swapper and back-of-the-set twiddler to little effect.

Some time in the ‘40’s he had started his own business. He became a ‘distributor’ and wholesale source for Packard Bell televisions, radios, and related merchandise, such as TV set stands, and antennas, and also some record players, and tube checking devices that were for TV repairmen. TV sales were just beginning to take off. Average working class people were beginning to consider the purchase of a TV set. This was a major appliance purchase. A TV cost as much as a stove or refrigerator. Packard Bell was highly regarded for quality radios and started the manufacture of TV sets in ’48. As sole distributor in Seattle, Paul began to prosper.

When I came down from Alaska in about ’51 I walked into the Grandparents home, and neighbors were all clustered around watching the TV. That moment is etched in my memory; on the screen were dancing cigarette packages. Cigarette-package Costumes worn by lady dancers with only the legs showing, tap dancing in unison across the stage to a catchy tune. The Packard Bell in their living room was a ‘gift’ from Uncle Paul. The screen was perhaps 9” across, the grainy image in shades of grey.  TV’s in those times were in consoles, large pieces of furniture with closing doors, generally mahogany, with decorative styling such as Spanish Mediterranean. The sets were very heavy, more than one man could lift. The console was full of transformers, tubes, steel chassis, lots of wire, and the TV tube itself was thick and heavy.

The P.O. Swanson Company was a wholesale outlet, which means that truck loads of TV sets, hi-fi record players, stands, antennas etc were delivered at the rear, and these were parceled out into orders to be delivered to various retail stores. Paul made his money on whatever the percentage was on the deal – probably something like 10%. When I worked there in 58, the preparation of orders was an occasional afternoon’s heavy labor, building the order piles and calling various freight outfits to pick up. Large orders were often shipped direct to the retail stores.

My Dad worked for Paul as a salesman. My Dad didn’t like Paul much, and from time to time let loose a stream of invective about that lying cheating conniving son of a bitch etc. Nevertheless Dad was out on the road all over the Seattle/Tacoma area. He worked for Paul for a long time, a bit over 10 years before he finally had enough. He had heard about the Snap-On Tool opportunity. He was so sick of Paul’s wheeling and dealing him out of the commissions that he was willing to bolt out of Suquamish and start a whole new life, in business for himself.

As rock and roll took over the country, there was a huge demand for record players. Paul was distributor for the Symphonic line of hi-fi players, many of which featured Garrard record changers. This was considered a great technological advance. There was a speed setting to select, 78, 45 or 33 for LP’s. Many of these units also had radios as well. Most of the Symphonics sold were of the suitcase variety, with decorative tweed or two-tone styling, with hatch tops. These units were relatively inexpensive tube powered players with what would now be considered awesomely trashy sound. Symphonic also built some large console units with ‘lovely’ furniture styling, but basically the same amplifier units. The big ones were no better or louder than the small ones. Packard Bell also produced TV’s with record players in the cabinets, but the younger people wanted to be able to carry the players around with them from room to room, or off to a party. Paul sold thousands of these units, and I bundled thousands of them into orders.

About ’58 or ‘59 Stereo became a big feature (distinct from Hi-Fi). And at the warehouse, Paul reveled in demonstrating the Stereo phenomenon. There was a special LP in which a train went by and you could hear the Doppler effect as it went from left to right, and a ping-pong game sound track, and a sales recitation with the lady on the left and the guy on the right. And people’s heads would swivel from side to side. There was also a stereo LP of Oklahoma and another of Porgy and Bess, both of which I have hated ever since.

In the mid ‘50’s there was the sales pitch about the latest thing – FM radio. In Seattle there were about 3 stations broadcasting FM as part of their regular extended programming. One station played nothing but light classical on their FM frequency, and another had show tunes and jazz – like Brubeck. FM was considered to be a bit classy and exotic. In the late ‘60’s FM was the place to hear hippie music  – there were several stations devoted to Janis, Hendrix, and so on. Anyway, Paul was immediately one of the sources for units that had FM capacity, even though most people in this area weren’t asking for it.

Paul had a bit of a showroom out front, and a back office set up as a demonstration room for the stereo effect, but this was not a retail outlet, and everything was makeshift and a bit run down and shabby. I would go out and dust the tops of the units, and broom up the cobwebs and dust bunnies every now and then. If a customer came in wanting a deal, cash would talk, but aside from favors to friends, this was rare. Briefly in ’59 he suddenly got on someone’s list – over a period of a couple of months we had several jockeys show up wanting to buy. It was odd, these tiny, thin, frail looking guys in their 30’s coming in wanting to buy a big stereo and expecting a deal. And they would have a roll of cash, some hot chick along with a couple of bruisers to load the unit into a van. As far as I know, Paul didn’t play the horses, but one of the salesmen did.

It is a bit odd to reflect back on those entertainment units. We have a very different sort of attitude now. Virtually all of the Packard Bell and Symphonic units, the TV antennas, the stands – everything in the warehouse, was American made. There was also a thriving small industry of kits for stereos, TV’s, ham radio gear; Heathkit, for instance. My brother, Don, assembled a major stereo set up, with tubes, stamped steel chassis, etc in about ’64. It took hours of soldering and the instructions were a small booklet. It was a wonderful, loud, mellow sounding unit, and weighed 50# all together. It was all-American made bits and pieces. In the same decade it was also possible to build computers, Apple started out selling kits for computers that amounted to little more than adding machines.

Customers didn’t regard TV’s and stereos as temporary disposable distractions. These were serious and major acquisitions. The assumption was that the units would last for decades, that one’s tastes in décor would be constant. Karen’s parents, for instance, still have their original stereo console, complete with 8 track and AM-FM tuner. Their entertainment needs were permanently met with a handful of records, a tape of the Carpenters, and the tuner set on a religious station. A huge console TV set in the rec room was another lifetime investment. Only recently has the antenna come off the roof.

Beverly went on to PLU, graduated with honors, and became engaged to a Canadian medical student, who went on to become an eye surgeon. He was/is very active in the church and plays the organ. They have had what appears to be a wonderful life dedicated to their dozen kids, medical work, and travel. They have done good and prospered. I hardly know these people, I last saw him when I was in college, and have seen her a couple times in the past 20 years. I recall she and her pastor son attended my retirement gathering, but it was not an occasion to sit and chat. Life doesn’t seem to provide opportunities to maintain family offshoot relationships. Each person wanders off into the capitalist underbrush looking for a clear shot at opportunity, and thus we are scattered all over the country. Not just scattered physically, but separated by educational background, political and religious beliefs. Distance, and the travails of travel and the dubious pleasure of visiting people of significantly different self selected life styles, makes it all just too much trouble; we are too busy to maintain connections. Historically a short time ago, such family connections as cousins, step children, aunts and so forth were all part of the family unit and individuals were unlikely to be much different or very far away. We might not like them all that much, but interaction was expected and anticipated. Now it is almost impossible to remember when familial community was of importance.

My cousin, Connie, I haven’t seen since the late ‘70’s. She and her son suddenly visited, Margaret in tow. We had just finished the garage/studio. I think that perhaps Doris (my aunt) had just died. All I recall of the trip was that Connie was anxious to leave, and her strapping son – about 15 or so – saw my crude weight set, and had to show me how strong a football player he was, and wore a blister on his hand during some enthusiastic curls. He was strong, but not a match for me at the time.

Back to the property deal:

Jan and I married in the spring of ’66. I had just been accepted in grad school, but had no idea how we were going to stay afloat. I decided to go back to work in machine shops, and went to inquire at my former employer. In the couple of years that I had been gone, one co-worker had been promoted to shop supervisor. He and I had probably not exchanged 20 words in the past – the machine shop was shriekingly noisy – but he remembered me as steady and on time. “Can you start tonight?”

Minutes after he hired me, he went back and fired two guys that were ‘problem children’. I was to pick up the slack, which wasn’t all that hard. I worked there nights on a sort of whenever basis all through grad school. It was a good deal, low pay, plenty to do and welcomed when I did show up. Seattle was booming for those two years.

Jan immediately got pregnant despite prescriptions for birth control, which was the first of hundreds of episodes in which we learned the hard way that she could not be trusted to take pills with any regularity. Suddenly life took on a more serious aspect. We were living in a horrid little apartment that I had found upon arrival in Seattle. I had been living on savings from a year and a half of sawmill work when I moved to Seattle. We had an opportunity to move downstairs to a larger but equally horrid apartment. Through the family grapevine I got word that Paul and Armida had a house for rent, and that it was in our price range.

It was odd to walk into the house in Ballard. I had stayed there several times shortly after we came down from Nome – 15 or so years earlier. Paul and Armida and Beverly were living there, and I slept on the couch. At that time the situation in Uncle Arnold’s place in Suquamish was a shambles, with Mother supervising the errant and misfit ‘contractors’ tearing the place apart. Mother was fit to be tied at the uproar and the outrage of living in the ‘boy’s’ house with a tiny trash burner for heat and cooking while these local oafs shredded the wiring and kitchen etc in the main house.

As Jan and I were packing to move to Ballard I got a phone call. I had been awarded a TA position for two years. The professor that had suggested that I apply had gone to some trouble to get me the TA – I was the only TA applicant with a teaching degree, and that weighted the decision. I didn’t realize until I was well into the TA program what a lucky fluke it was that I got the job. Suddenly the whole MFA course seemed manageable. And as an employee of the UW we had medical for the baby.

We didn’t feel like it, but in retrospect we were prospering. We had savings, and had been able to pay rent in advance. There was some money to keep the Harley, and Model A and ’52 Chevy running. We also were able to spend some money on Jan’s attempt at being in a rock band. I had a downtown studio; we could hire local kids as baby sitters, and sponsored some parties etc.

Shortly after Jeff was born, Jan’s father died suddenly. I had not gotten along with her parents, particularly with her father. The image of him having a brain aneurism in some customer’s yard after delivering a B-3 Hammond organ seemed a suitable way to go. He had considerable insurance due to patronizing a high school acquaintance/insurance salesman for decades. Everything was paid for. Opal was devastated, but quickly adapted to not having that tyrant stalking around the house.

Jan had become increasing flighty and having panic episodes during the pregnancy, and after Jeff was born she fell into what is today called post-natal depression. She was full of stories, fears, dreams, shadowy voices and so on.  And then her father Bob died and she plummeted into long crying jags and endlessly replaying Judy Collins, Merilee, Joanie Mitchell, etc. Through some acquaintances, she began to perform with a loose batch of students that hashed together a band playing music of the time. The band became known as George Arliss, and had a couple dozen gigs over a year or so. She was keeping it all together with improvised lyrics and spacey music, but once home the crying and uproar continued. Looking back on this, I have come to believe that she was having some sort of affair with the bass player, but that is just my hunch based on later behavior. At the time it didn’t occur to me.

In the same year, Uncle Paul died. He survived a heart attack several years previously, and was supposed to be on a special low-cholesterol, low salt, reduced calorie diet. He was in his early 60’s and vigorous up until the massive stroke. He too had major life insurance and left Armida ‘quite a wad’. She attempted to run the business, but she was not a boss, and the business quietly folded. She was spending time at the golf club knocking back martinis.

I’m at a loss to explain the love for drink that Armida, George, and Doris exhibited. I used to really enjoy having a couple-three drinks, but that generation could really suck down the alcohol. It was amazement. No one got hurt, but it was quite a display. Armida would call us at the house and talk on the phone for hours. First one hand and then the other would go numb. We were living in her house, we were months ahead on the rent, and felt obligated to listen to her endless talk. She was having Bloody Marys for breakfast, and screwdrivers for lunch. When she and Jan got going on the phone I could just leave the house for a couple hours, neither of them were making any sense and they just fed anxieties and dreams to each other.

Shortly after Paul’s death all of his clothes were delivered to our place. Cartons of clothes appeared which fit no one. We took some to a campus rummage sale, and the rest went to Goodwill. I got an oddly checked sweater that was a bit short, and a WWII blue-green nylon bomber jacket that I wore at work in machine shops and the aluminum plant for years. At this point I wonder what became of his cars. He was a Packard man. No car was as good as a Packard. He bought one of the last frog-mouthed hard top Packard sedans, complete with Paxton supercharger. These were enormous and homely cars, not very reliable and softly sprung. Not prized today, but scarce as hens teeth because only a few were made.

Gerke died shortly thereafter, leaving his family in chaos. He was also heavily insured. Life was not calm in that family, and his son quickly descended into drug use and went to the Federal penitentiary a year or so after Gerke’s death. This left my Dad with the still unresolved property deal. They were almost ready to start selling lots, one at a time as clearance and permits were obtained.

A local realtor had been given exclusive listing. I don’t know what the details were, but evidently he got a bigger slice than usual when or if he sold something. His name was Huffnagle. I met Huff several times. He was an old school style character. He was about 6’4” and in an athletic trim but aging body. He had been, back in the 30’s and 40’s a professional fist fighter. He had toured the west as part of traveling show of fighters. The crew of fighters included boxers and wrestlers, and often a strongman. Wives, or girlfriends, or a local barmaid would serve as ‘ring girls’. The fights were organized by weight class. They would put up a fight ring in a stable or school gym, and offer like $100 if any member of the audience could beat Huff or one of the other fighters. There would be local guys in preliminary bouts, the winners could then move up to battle the pros. Betting in the audience led to informal heated arguments and fights in the assembled crowds. So the show would pull into Tucson, Bakersfield, or Yakima, set up the ring, and plaster the town with posters. He fondly remembered fighting in the Coullee dam sites, shanty towns full of workers – part of the WPA and other government programs. Those guys were very hard workers, pouring millions of gallons of cement, working 1″ rebar and so on. He said they were damned tough, but luckily for the fight crew, these yokels didn’t know how to fight. They were tough, but losers. The local guys would pay $5 to get in the ring and Huff and the other pros would pound them into the ground. This was ‘thin glove’ fighting, not the ‘pillows’ they wear today.

Huff had been in thousands of fights and his face was a mass of lumps and cartilage. His forehead and cheekbones looked like knuckles. His ears were puffy, and his nose was obviously smashed. He was gravelly voiced and ponderously aching when he walked. I recall him dropping a pen on the ground and saying, “Well, the damned thing belongs down there anyway.” He was not about to bend over or get down on his aching knees to pick it up. At 70 I can certainly agree with him. What kind of a merciful god was it that put the ground so damned far away?

Dad and I would meet Huff at his house, a tidy little place on the waterfront near Kingston. I’m not sure why I was along except to witness the excuses and swindles Huff was trying to pull on each lot deal. I liked Huff. He was a creaky and cranky giant that was soon to fall. He had a tiny wife – maybe 5’1”, grey haired, wiry, slim, stylish and busy. Her name, as far as I know, was Toots. So it was “Hey Toots! How bout some coffee?” “Hey Toots! Has it started to rain yet?” Hey Toots! We are going up to the lots, be back in an hour.” Huff was a ‘secret’ drinker. So we would sit at the table strewn with lot maps, contracts, and paper work with cups of coffee, and little shot glasses of peppermint schnapps for medicinal purposes. He would assure Toots that Schnapps was just what a man needed for what ails him. And 10 in the morning was just as good a time as any for a man to take his medicine. And we would proceed to sit there and have 3 or 4 or 5 shots of schnapps to lubricate the business at hand. Sometimes the schnapps of the day was single malt scotch.

When Dad bolted from Suquamish he was in double trouble on property. The Suquamish place just couldn’t be sold and was rented for several years. Property was simply not moving. And the Kingston development was also sitting partially sold. The folks were long in Longview before all that was finally sold, for far less than they had hoped. Now, of course, it is prime waterfront and was until recently worth millions.

As the Kingston property sold, he got his share –some went to the Swanson and Gerke estate. Huff, of course, got his slice. It was not the windfall that was hoped for. The Suquamish ‘farm’ eventually sold, again not for the price hoped for. The house they bought in Longview during his prime Snap On years was a modest home with a small lot, detached garage. Mother was teaching 3rd grade near by, and Dad was doing quite well with the tool business. He didn’t know doodly about tools or how to repair machinery, but his gift of gab, and the liquor bottle in the glove box lubricated many sales. I rode along with him several times and watched him in action. I think he harbored the dream that I would step in to the sales business, but I was too shy and my mind was on escape. Don tried it very briefly – to fill in for a salesperson that was sick for a few months. Don didn’t prosper at it.

Jimmy John – Racer

In the Spring of ‘64 I had just finished my BA in Art Education. I had done my supervised teaching at Garfield High School in Seattle, which was considered hazardous duty. I routinely showed up with my rummage sale suit, shirt, tie and slacks covered by my leathers and parked my Harley in the teacher’s lot. The school was predominantly Black. While the students tended to be a bit unruly, they were energetic and witty. Overall I thought they were great. Unfortunately I was supervised by a dour potter, and I knew next to nothing about ceramics, and my ignorance was on display, to everyone’s mutual amusement, but I got through it.

The teaching certificate was revealed to be a hoax. There was zero demand for teachers, particularly liberal arts teachers. I managed to get a couple interviews, but the list of interviewees was several pages long. I started scrounging around for any type of job, but couldn’t find anything. The savings I had accumulated from previous employment was evaporating very rapidly, and eventually I drifted back down to the folk’s place in Longview. Don was off in the Marines, Claire was off to Wazzoo, as I recall. I went down to the Sawmill again and got another entry-level job on the clean-up crew.

My father was doing quite well on his Snap-On Tool franchise, and through my interest in Model A Fords and Harleys he introduced me to several mechanics. My interests paralleled theirs in some way and my vehicles gave him a bit of standing, I guess. He sold tools but knew nothing about them. One day, a mild evening, a gent was at the door after dinner to pick up an order, some specific tool he needed for the weekend’s race.

Jimmy John

Jimmy John

It was the guy I came to know as Jimmy John. Just to prove that it is quite a small world, we had seen each other at a distance at the sawmill. He was a ‘floater’ and was occasionally on the clean-up crew. At the mill there were frequently problems with the conveyor belt system and tons of chips would suddenly cascade over the side and this pile would have to be loaded into a dump truck, often with nothing more than several of us with big flat shovels; a good sweaty workout for a few hours. If it weren’t for occasional emergencies the clean-up job was boring and simple minded. Sometimes hours were spent just standing around. I occasionally would take a nap up at the end of one of the conveyor sheds. I was drinking a bit in those days, and one time the foreman had to wake me up to hand me my paycheck.

Jimmy John was about 6’ tall and weighed maybe 160. Tall, thin, and agitated, and a chain smoker – but at the mill he had to chew Copenhagen. He was incapable of holding still, and once he started talking it would go on for a long time, the story line scattered and tangled. I suspected he was on speed, but he was probably just naturally wound up. In ‘64 drugs were still relatively unknown, by ‘66 or ‘68 there were drugs everywhere.

Within minutes of meeting, he was telling tales of his abilities as a race car driver. He was a stock car racer, also did a bit of sprint car driving. Longview/Kelso/Castle Rock had several racetracks. Stock car racing by unfunded individuals used to be quite popular, and was a regional sport, with local heroes. At the time, the hot cars to drive were ‘55 Chev’s , 52 – 54 Mercury’s, similar vintage Old’s, Pontiacs, and Buicks. These were all overhead valve V-8’s which were the hot ticket at the time. The cars were inexpensive and no longer in fashion. Since the car could be demolished in the next race, there was no point in spending a lot of money. In order to race, the upholstery would be stripped out, and a rudimentary roll bar installed, the windows removed, the springs torched to angle the car for the left turns, etc.

'55 Chev stock car similar to Jimmy John's

’55 Chev stock car similar to Jimmy John’s

Jimmy John had been racing stock cars since his teens. He and his wife were from the South, and while he didn’t have much of an accent, she had a charming accent. I suspected that he was ‘up North’ because of some outstanding warrant, perhaps. Before computers invaded law enforcement it was possible to simply move to some other state to avoid bail, or warrants and arrest. This was common among the bikers I briefly associated with – they would often brag of their exploits; suitably embellished, I’m sure.

Jimmy John earned his name early in his racing exploits. He started out racing Chevy coupes manufactured in the ‘40’s. These cars were all equipped with straight 6 engines that could be competitive with a bit of tinkering. The engines were referred to as ‘stove bolt sixes’, which described the head bolts used in assembly. One trick in the racing crowd was to swap the Chevy 6 with a GMC 6. I don’t know that there was any significant difference in power or durability, but this was a much discussed modification. Jimmy John always finagled a Jimmy engine in his race cars, the engine was often one of the few salvageable pieces when the coupes were destroyed in the stock car arena.

He had recently upgraded to a V-8 ‘55 Chev. When the family came west he towed his prized ‘55 Chevy Tudor all the way on a homemade trailer. He was quite proud of the car, which had seen many a race. It looked ok from 50 feet, but it was creased, and dented, and caved in a bit, and it sat at an odd angle because the suspension had been rudely modified to make nothing but left turns. There were no windows, and the doors were tack welded shut. Entry was feet first through the driver’s side window hole. The instrumentation was an oil and temperature gauge. The shell of the car had been painted many times with spray cans to cover scars. It had a straight pipe exhaust and was very loud, and since all the insulation had been removed the modified motor sounded like a threshing machine as well.



As we got acquainted, I was invited over to his place to go to the races. Longview/Kelso has some awful rental housing. He and I were earning a very similar wage, a bit above minimum: maybe he was getting two-bits an hour more than me. They were certainly not living high on the hog, and his racing expenses kept them in poverty. He had the family of 4 tucked into what seemed to have been originally a two-car garage or storage shed. The ‘55 was in the street on the trailer covered with a tarp. The house was filthy, the furniture was probably salvaged from Goodwill. There were broken kids toys scattered about. They had two kids, the young man was in grade school, the young lady was in kindergarten. The kids were unkempt and poorly dressed. A middle-aged neighbor lady came over to sit the kids, and we loaded into Jimmy John’s beat up Chevy pickup and towed the race-car to the track.

Going to the races with him and Sally was a mistake. I thought it would be an amusing afternoon, but when they went to the races they didn’t come home till 3 am; not until they were flat broke and had exhausted everyone’s hospitality. His races were over in minutes – he was in two events. A very aggressive driver, he managed to finish 3rd in one and then went off the course in the 2nd. Standing on the infield with 100 pit crew observers, I couldn’t tell what had happened. Once back in the pits and reloaded on the trailer, the drinking began in earnest. The universal lubricant was cheap beer, Rheinlander, as I recall. There were coolers and iced tubs full of canned beer. It was two cans for a dollar. If memory serves, a six-pack was $2.50 in the stores.

As dusk settled into night, and the races were done, the pit crew and losers were all getting a good coat of shellac. No one seemed to pay attention to the trophies and awards. The winners were winners only in their own minds, no one in the pits gave a damn. There were some portable radios (this is pre-boombox, pre-cassette tape) and there was hours of endless guy talk about motors, cars, racing mishaps and so on. The bathroom situation was execrable, over beneath the rudimentary bleachers was concrete floored shed with a 4 hole crapper and a slit water-heater tank for a piss trough. It had no door and was unlit, so once it was dusk, the guys pissed beer anywhere a few feet from a conversation. There were only a few women in attendance, perhaps 12 or 15 amongst the 100 or so racer guys. The ladies would wander over to their designated 4 holer, using Zippoes for illumination.

available under the bleachers

available under the bleachers

The women were attending with their men, and were sort of in the role of trophy wives, although they may not have been formally married. Sally was a rather well endowed young woman, clad in tight jeans, and a checkered flag sleeveless, scoop necked blouse. She was getting quite a bit of attention – men wanting to look down her blouse or check out her tightly wrapped butt. She was the recipient of quite a few free beers, for which she would thank graciously, but then discretely pass the sampled can on to Jimmy John, or even me. Every now and then a lady would decide to dance to the music racket, gratuitously and usually without male company. The display was just to remind the men that they were there. Overall it was a man’s world. As the evening dragged along, one small foxy woman was wandering about, and on two occasions she passed by me and said something like: “I’ll get to you in a few minutes” or “Later, dear”. I was a bit bored in my non-member observer role, and watched her for a bit. What was her deal? Evidently she was available for brief encounters under the bleachers, performing blowjobs for $5 for any and all takers.

Jimmy John was quite drunk by dark, totally fried or blitzed by late evening. There were ‘Texas Fifths’ of Jack Daniels rotating through the clusters of men and many were getting quite tanked. Jimmy John was in the sliding down and falling over stage as the party began to break up after midnight. He was our driver, but by the time Sally was ready to go – after repeated chats amongst the ladies about surgical procedures, the extraordinary pangs of childbirth etc – there was little we could do but load Jimmy John into the back of the pickup. Sally was somewhat tanked but she managed to drive home with little incident aside from running the trailer up over the curb on right hand turns. After an early start, I had been monitoring my alcohol intake during the proceedings and while probably technically over the legal limit I was able to drive home and fall asleep on the bed with my shoes on.

I went to 3 or 4 races. I found the whole scene to be depressing. It was loud and low, vulgar and dumb. One of the feature races was often a Destruction Derby or a Figure 8 Race, which inevitably continued until there was only one survivor car still running. The teams would raid a wrecking yard or rummage the want ads looking for some hapless car – cheap but running, and perhaps a bit distinctive such as an old ambulance, an ice cream van, a ‘36 Buick sedan, a ‘52 Packard convertible, etc. In one event someone had resurrected a Model A coupe – it was obviously a farmyard salvage, with moss on the roof. To me, as an owner of a somewhat prized Model A pickup, it was sad to see it totaled within minutes. The crowd loved to watch all these high impact wrecks, and they would root for the last few cars that were blowing steam or smoking and limping and scraping for the final hit.

I didn’t get to know Jimmy John well. I would occasionally work with him on the cleanup crew and hear his latest exploits, and his guy talk swagger, and tales of his driving prowess, and his miraculous and prized ‘55. I’m not sure how the family was getting by. He seemed to be constantly spending money on the car and racing. He wanted others to ‘sponsor’ his efforts, but it looked like money down the drain to me. I attended 4 or 5 races, driving myself to Castle Rock or Battleground tracks. He would drag the car up to Renton and Bremerton and down to Portland occasionally. A very local circuit for him, while the big boys, the national figures, traveled all over the country in relative luxury. This was Jimmy John’s aspiration, but it seemed far from clear how this cocky loudmouth was going to get from squalor to whatever the next step might be in a hotly contested field.

I didn’t get a chance to chat with Sally frequently. She seemed little more than a breeder. She was a pleasant looking young woman in snug clothes with nothing much to say about anything. Her southern accent coupled with little education and no interest in much beyond the kids and shopping minimized any extended conversation. She was employed part-time, afternoons, at a local Lumber Yard. She was a clerk at the Order Desk. When a customer wandered in, he would be met at the Order Desk by two or three ladies, or the one guy (expert). A ‘picking order’ would be hand written on a 3 part carbonless form. The small orders could be filled quickly by the warehousemen. Large orders from building contractors would be phoned in, and the materials delivered to the construction site. Her job required a bit of product knowledge and basic math skills for determining and billing the number of board feet etc on the smaller orders. The large phone orders were billed by an accountant because those orders often had special bid pricing schedules. When there was something wrong with an order – wrong materials, incorrect billing – a customer had to start the complaint at the Order Desk. The company had found that it was advantageous to staff the order desk with attractive young women because customers (men) would be somewhat defused explaining the problem to a pleasant lady that had her blouse unbuttoned a few inches.

In olden times, before outlets such as Home Depot, there were Hardware Stores and Lumber Yards. These were local businesses. If a project or a contractor needed plywood or lumber, the materials would be bought at the Lumber Yard. If tools were needed, were available at the Hardware Store – quite often a storefront operation with shelves to the ceiling and relatively knowledgeable clerks. Often the clerks walked with a limp or had missing fingers. That was the badge of authority; they had been injured in the construction trades. If the project required paint there was a Paint Store, although by the 60’s some Hardware Stores had begun to stock common paints.

I visited Longview a couple years later and I heard that Jimmy John had died. A mutual acquaintance explained that Jimmy John was attempting to demonstrate his self-proclaimed vast knowledge of racecar tuning and was assisting in dialing in a recalcitrant engine. He was head under the hood pouring nitro or ether down the carb while blipping the throttle by fiddling with the linkage. The engine suddenly backfired and the carb throat was full of ether.  The fireball engulfed his head and he reared back, banging his head into the hood of the car and suddenly inhaling. The flaming hot gases instantly destroyed his lungs. He was probably dead before he hit the ground, although he flailed and twitched in the back of the pickup truck that hauled him to the emergency room that was less than a mile away.

I have no idea what became of Sally and the kids or the mighty awesome ‘55.


I have been a gym rat for a long time – about 50 years, depending on how it might be counted. Simple arithmetic on the back of an envelope reveals that I have survived a bit over 5,000 workouts.  I am not athletic – I’m unfamiliar with any form of team sports.

For a kid in Nome there were no team sports whatsoever. I never saw a football. Basketball was only for the older kids. My father once took me to a basketball game in the school gym; the teams consisted of military men against a sort of ‘bar team’ of local civilians. I had no idea what the rules were.

the ball game069In the summer of what may have been ’46 there was a baseball game, and many adults and most of the kids in town gathered. We just stood around watching, there was no seating. The game was between soldiers from our local Nome base and a bunch of sailors from a submarine that was visiting Nome. There was an ample supply of alcohol to fuel the sport on a pleasant afternoon. Submariners had a reputation for rowdiness – they were cooped up in tight quarters for weeks at a time and were given a bit of slack when ashore. There was a lot of shouting, and insults were tossed about during the game. I gather that submariners could and would get involved in quite a bender given the opportunity.

I had no idea what the rules of baseball might be. As kids we played a sort of workup, with informal rules similar to the ‘German Batball’ missionaries taught American Indians. It was a low-keyed game that rotated the players to enable everyone to play every position. There was an  ‘official rubber ball’ that could be bought in town, and some of the more dedicated youth had special bats hacked and carved from planks. Upon arrival in the states I had never seen a regulation baseball bat, although I had seen and wondered at a regulation hardball – what was the point of a ball that didn’t bounce?

I’ve never watched more than a couple minutes of sports on TV, never paid to attend any sport. I just lift weights, and as a result I’m at least twice as strong as anyone half my age that I am likely to meet. I have met, and worked out next to men that were bigger and/or stronger. I worked out with a young chap that was convinced he was on the way to the Olympics as a shot-putter and hammer throw contestant. I was briefly a member of a gym dedicated to power-lifting, and it was a humbling experience. Those guys are immense and quite strong. At my peak of powers I could almost do half of their workout, for instance.

Occasionally someone will ask why or how I became involved in weightlifting. My standard answer is that I had started training to become a jockey, but after all these thousands of hours I find that I am no closer to being a jockey than when I started. Actually I was so sick in my teens and early 20’s that I drifted into lifting. A doctor had suggested that I could, perhaps, get some meat on my bones by exercising. A neighbor in Suquamish heard of this, and showed up at the door with his long-gone son’s abandoned Charles Atlas Training Guide and the Atlas weight set. I was somewhat familiar with weights; I had been consigned to weight lifting in high school because I was utterly incompetent in PE at the required popular team sports. We ‘losers’ were constantly beaten, shoved, bullied and harassed by the more aggressive champs – in my view that should be chimps or chumps. The deal with the coach was that we losers were to spend the time lifting, and if our T-shirts were damp at the end, we passed with a C.

My first part-time job in college was in a warehouse at a wholesale business that sold TV’s and Hi-Fi’s to furniture stores. My job was to read the order lists and prepare shipments to various stores in the area. Stereo music had just been introduced and was becoming popular. The showroom had demonstration units on display, complete with special records with exaggerated sound tracks. Visitors would stand astounded at the sound of a train going from left speaker to right speaker, or a brief ping pong game, or a Sinatra song with the trumpets on the left and the piano on the right etc. There was a specially recorded album of Oklahoma in Stereo, which I heard far too many times at what was considered high volume. The unintiated customers (rubes) were amazed.

The business was doing rather well and employed several salesmen. I’m not sure there are salesmen of that sort still at work; out making ‘cold calls’ selling merchandise from catalogs. Sales were solely on the basis of persistence and personality. They lived on the road, staying hotels or motels, covering entire counties that were their exclusive territories. They lived on earned commissions. My father became a salesman, but insisted on being home based.

One of the salesmen, Jake, was quite a snappy dresser and liked flashy cars. He had a Red and Charcoal Chevy Nomad with a big V-8, and white wall tires. He liked flashy women and crude jokes that would be unrepeatable today. He took me to lunch one day. We went to a rather upscale place with a view of the water. It was a momentary act of generosity, and an opportunity for him to talk about himself. He was his own best topic, his opinions and conquests. He thought of himself as quite the ladies man.

I was uncomfortable there, a bit too posh for me – I was lurking in coffee houses where Marxism and socialism were commonly discussed. I had cultivated a little goatee and mustache and had gone without a haircut for months in emulation of the Beats. At the restaurant we were seated with a view of the water and within the service area of his favorite waitress.

One of his topics was horse racing. He had a penchant for the horses. In the Spring and Summer there were frequent races, and in those primitive times, the winning horses would be recited on the news, much as we now suffer with sports team scores.  Jake claimed to be making money betting on the horses, and was attempting to perfect his selection methods. He was sure he was developing a system that would soon enrich him effortlessly. He loved to go to the races on weekends, dressed in his snatty clothes, with a gleam in his eye, often accompanied by a selection from his stable of mistresses.

My parents moved from Nome to the tiny rural town of Suquamish. Perhaps once a year we would eat in a diner or restaurant. There was no nearby establishment as elegant as Jake’s treat. I had been trained to order from the right column of the menu – always select the least expensive meal. I ordered Salisbury Steak; he had a slab of Salmon. I had a glass of Coke, and he proceeded to toss down 3 Martini’s, talking all the while.

He felt called upon to regale me with tales of his most successful bets, the people he met at the track, and how he drank with the trainers and jockeys at the end of another successful day. He also wanted to grill me about all those sorority girls that he’d heard so much about. I had been in college for about 6 months and was still terribly shy and could contribute nothing to his vivid imaginings. He attempted to engage the waitress, Darla, in his conversation: “Darla, were you one of those sorority girls?” Of course she had not attended the university, she’d gone to work right after dropping out of high school. “What? You weren’t one of those ‘Felta Thigh’ girls in the sororities?”

I was reared in a ‘no touch’ family. Physical expressions were frowned upon. As a shy guy I was in awe and distress at his behavior when Darla came to the table. As a lover of horseflesh he felt free to pat her on the rump or run his hand up her thigh, or move his hand up from the table as she bent over to serve the food, enabling him to brush her breast. This sort of behavior was evidently acceptable.  She didn’t slap him or say anything about it other than occasionally coyly say “Oh please don’t”. As we left he felt free to put an arm around her waist and give her a bit of a hug. In those times, a plain but buxom waitress was expected to be available for fleeting touching, and graciously accepting gratuitous fondling probably had an effect on the nature of the tip.

He didn’t take me to lunch again. Shortly after our little meal he quit and went to work for some other outfit. He had sold magazines, greeting cards, insurance, vacuum cleaners, nutritional supplements, Fuller brushes, mail order shoes from a catalog, and so on. He started out as a door-to-door salesman before moving up the feed trough to hawking furniture to stores.

Through his interest in the horses, we would have a visit by people from the track to the warehouse showroom. The deal was that if they paid cash they could buy TV’s or record player consoles wholesale, which was about a third off the retail price. I was at work a few times when jockeys came in. It was an amazement to see these tiny wiry gents in person, often accompanied by a sample ‘babe’ female towering over them. One jockey showed up with an oddly attractive dwarf lady friend that was perhaps an inch shorter. Another showed up with a couple henchmen, big bouncer or wrestler style guys. Their job, aside from protection, was to load the console into the back of the horse trailer waiting outside. The jockeys would pay cash. They’d take a wad of bills out of a pocket and peel off tens and twenties.

Several years later I attended a horse race at the track. I was on the verge of leaving the motorcycle social group that I had been associating with. One of the recent additions to the group was working down at the track. Hawky claimed to be wanted by the police in ‘all of the 5 Western States’ and he was laying low. In the days before computers and long before our current surveillance regime, it was possible to stay out of sight for extended periods of time. Alaska was full of these guys, evading the law, or starting over, or skipping bills and obligations. Hawky was working in the stables, shoveling manure and so on. The job paid cash daily and they didn’t want to know your name. Show up early, work all day, and collect the pay. It was possible to sleep in empty stalls with fresh hay, but many of the laborers would take a cheap local motel room, and fill it with half a dozen co-workers willing to sleep on the bed, the floor, the couch, or the tub. They would pool resources and sit up drinking vodka with coke, eating take-out pizza, playing cards, swapping lies, and upon rare occasion getting a whore in to service the willing.

We were to meet Hawky at a specific gate near the stables. We were to park the choppers out of sight, and he would let us in, and thus avoid the entry fees. It was a nice sunny day, and it was crowded. It seemed to me that much of the day involved standing in line to place minimal bets and buying overpriced beer in paper cups. Initially I thought it was a lively scene, but it quickly became repetitive and boring. The views of the horses were remote and not as depicted by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.

After many hours we left as a group with lots of noise. We were headed for the local sleazy motel – The Paddock Inn, as I recall. It was an older unit, probably dated from the 40’s. There are still a few of these type of establishments in existence, but that type of ‘mom & pop’ 20 unit single story motels are no longer the investment opportunities they may have been when rooms on the road were scarce. The Paddock Inn just off Highway 99 in a block long row consisting of a gas station, tire shop, carpet warehouse outlet, used car lot, and a large vacant lot that truckers parked in. The motel was in need of paint and repairs, with a permanent vacancy sign that had a hand lettered addendum advertising ‘low weakly ratez’.

Hawky’s room was in the middle. He was paying the weekly rate and sharing the room with 3 or 4 other ‘hot walkers’ and ‘stable boys’. The door was heavily weathered and much of the veneer had peeled off, the doorknob was loose, the window was cracked and the dark brown drapes oddly stained and torn. The room smelled terrible, smokers, drinkers, dirty clothes, and unwashed laborers. The room had a double bed, a wobbly nightstand with a cockeyed lamp and a Bakelite radio. The room was quite dark with one overhead single bulb light fixture. The bathroom door was seriously dented; someone had tried to shoulder punch his way in. The bathroom was horrid, with mold in the grouting, randomly missing tiles, and there was strong ammonia – Pine Sol scent. I think that room service consisted of fresh towels and sheets once a week in the office when the next week’s payment was made.

We no sooner got there than others started drifting in. All strangers to us, one everyone was thirsty. A couple of the bikers had stopped on the way and purchased a half case of generic beer to lash onto the passenger seat (the pussy pad). None of the choppers had saddlebags. The beer vanished immediately. We took up a bit of a collection and headed back down the road to little store run by Chicanos and got more beer, and some chips, and some Mad Dog 20 that had been requested. About an hour later, in the dusk, we had to make yet another run. Luckily a car owner wandered into the group and he went and got a pizza and a bucket of KFC hunks.

There were 15 or 20 guys crowded into the room; standing, sitting on the floor, and on the bed. All smoking and tapping ash on the floor and inserting the butts into empty beer bottles. One of the bikers had a pocket full of speed and so there was an accelerating pace of the chatter about bikes, babes, previous near misses, outlandish episodes, wrongful incarcerations, and random mayhem. It was getting quite loud and unknown riff raff were wandering in and out, a few buying packets of speed.

A couple of young ladies showed up. They were also residents of the Paddock and familiar with Hawky and the denizens. Amy and Carla were perhaps 20 years old and appeared to be of the second string in the high school  beauty’s parade, now entrepreneurs as ‘working girls’. They were plump, big breasted, plain but good hearted, and eager to engage a john. They immediately deduced that someone had pills and they proceeded to cajole a couple apiece. Carla went to their unit and brought back a ‘boom box’ and some tapes. The girls began to mince around in a bit of low key dancing moves – there wasn’t much room, the air was thick with smoke and general funk as they put on a bit of display. Trolling for a trick in that crowd was problematic. No one had money worth counting. Amy decided that she was too warm and proceeded to remove her jacket, and then her blouse, revealing an ample jiggle.

This entertainment went on for a while, varying in tempo with the music. A couple of rail thin ‘working girls’ wandered in – business was not brisk that evening on 99, and the uproar could probably be heard for quite a distance. Bikes were firing up every half hour or so for another chips & beer run. The second pair of ladies was older and rougher looking. They seemed to be waiting, observing, off to the side a bit. Soon a rather sleek gent showed up – tall, thin, perhaps Indian or Octoroon – and the three of them vanished – into the bathroom as it turned out. Eventually all the beer drinkers had to pee, and the bathroom was locked and time was passing. Knocking on the door was getting no response.

One of Hawky’s friends wandered over to the door, crouched down, and picked the lock with some tiny tool and the door was open. Inside were two hookers and their friend in disarray. They had been involved in some sex act in return for the opportunity to shoot up. All three were in a heap and thoroughly subdued, grey, sweaty, and close to unconscious. The shared needle was on the floor. They were dragged out into the middle of the room, and guys were pissing in the sink, the tub, and toilet simultaneously for a bit. Of course some had already stepped out into the parking lot and peed on the ground.

I decided it was time to get out of there and went out and kicked the Harley. The druggies soon awakened and returned to their own room, one of them bare-assed. The cops eventually showed up because of a noise complaint, but the group had dispersed a bit, and no one was arrested. I suspect that motels of that sort are the cause of frequent police calls.

Shortly thereafter I quit associating with that crew. I didn’t mind a bit of drugs, but the group had progressed from an excuse to hang out and have a drink to shifting bulk sacks of pills into tiny glassine envelopes to sell to street peddlers.

I don’t happen to have any pictures of jockeys, however I have images of horses in a few of my paintings. Here is a couple.

Paige Dreams of a Better Life

Paige Dreams of a Better Life

Stealing the Princess

Stealing the Princess

the Art Lover

The last show at 619 was a bit of a let down. The building had received quite a bit of local coverage, and many of the artists were expecting record turnout due to the publicity, but it was just an ordinary group of drifters. Late in the evening a big tall bearded drunk enthusiast bonded with me, and simply had to cut his T-shirt sleeves off in emulation of my style. He hauled out an industrial looking folding knife that is a foot long when open and starts cutting his sleeves off with his shirt on. The one done with the right hand went sort of ok, but the side done with the left hand led to some bloodshed off his gouged deltoid, I was busy elsewhere until the ‘oh my god’ and ‘eeewh’ comments attracted my attention, by then he has blood down his arm to the wrist and he is licking his palm. As a drunk, he felt no pain, just seemed a little baffled, but persistent, got the sleeve off, his shirt covered in blood as he proudly wanders off in search of a sink. I suspect that some stitches may have been in order, but was damned glad to be rid of him. Yet another incident amongst the art lovers: another performance piece.Image

recent bio and statement

Dr. JohnnyWow!

Bio and Artist’s Statement

Dr. JohnnyWow! has both a BA and MFA in Studio Arts from the University of Washington, acquired in the ‘60’s. Recently he completed a program resulting in the acquisition of a Doctorate in Metaphysics. He spent 30+ years working as an offset printer, a field in which he had little talent and no interest. He has been an Artist of little note and no merit for 50+ years. He has also been a gym-rat/weightlifter for the same decades. These parallel interests have been found to be lacking coherent meaning and devoid of income opportunities. “How could a person of intellect and refined sensitivities dedicate a life to fields that are so silly, irrelevant, capricious, and un-rewarding as the Arts?”

The Good Doctor was one of the evicted at 619 Western where he exhibited for 50 months. The monthly shows provided a welcome, thought provoking, and hilarious summation to his invisible ‘career’ in the Arts. It cost him about $1.50 per head to have around 200 viewers for his artwork every month. The studios that are now available cost 2 to 5 times as much and do not generate similar foot traffic, thus the ‘per head’ cost to exhibit has become prohibitive. The eviction has eliminated the opportunity for public disgrace. In the final months of 619, the Doctor created ‘Destructospectives’ in which whatever could not be sold (you name the price), or given away, was loaded into dumpsters; eliminating a lifetime accumulation of wasted effort. He thus spared his wife the fate of becoming a ‘Widow with a Warehouse’.

The Good Doctor hopes that everyone viewing the shows had half as much fun on Artwalk as he had. This would mean that he has had twice as much fun as you. If you had tried a bit harder, you might have had more fun. The Doctor’s observational research has led him to believe that he has had far more fun than those that presume to be fans of Artistic endeavors.

It is unfortunate that the Arts seem dull and boring, but, after all, no one paid to view, and the Artists weren’t paid to perform. The Artists did pay to produce the artworks, but hardly a soul had anything to say about the Art, and nothing was purchased. So, how much entertainment can be expected in a zero-sum game?

I apologize for the terrible inconvenience of viewing the Arts, but it is free. The depressing combination of obligation and pity that drew you to the Artwalk is greatly appreciated by those afflicted with annoyingly pretentious hobbies within the Arts.

“We must become fools to establish the realm of our wisdom.”



Mankind is destroying life on this planet. Only through direct genetic modification can we preserve intelligent life forms.

Dr. JohnnyWow!’s Create-A-Mate program features genetic enhancement and DNA diversity. It will provide alternatives to dreary repetitive interaction with the present limitation of merely seven sexes. Hybrid technology can increase your mileage pleasure. Sign up now, be an Early Adaptor of the new possibilities for constructive ambiguity.

Unimaginable pleasures that were previously unavailable can be yours.

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creating or attempting to create an in vitro human embryo by any means other than fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm.