November 14th...They Shall Run And Not Be Weary....
As we rolled along down the east slope of the Coast Mountains it seemed the storm was losing some of its intensity. Here in the lee, the wind didn't have the violent energy that it has when it comes screaming off the ocean. It was tamer, more benign. Its' still rainin' like a bastard, but the sky is lighter. Gone a dirty lookin' white compared to the dark gun metal grey beach sky we left behind us. All the trees seemed relaxed, just swayin' in a gentle, steady windy rhythm compared to the panicky wardance goin' on the seaward slope. Darrel and I just kept talkin', drinkin' our coffee, and listenin' to some country station comin' out a Portland as we drove along.
"Well I'll be dipped in shit, ya' just picked ol' Kesey up standin' by the roadside, brokedown?" Darrel kind'a chuckled.
"Yeah, I sure did", I answer.
"I'll be damned, that must'a been kind of a surprise."
"I'm telling ya, Darrel, I didn't know what the hell was goin' on, Man, I was just blown away." "I didn't know what to say to him,ya know?" "In fact, the first thing to come to mind was to ask him where Wavy Gravy was." "Not that I give a shit about Wavy Gravy, but you gotta admit, the name Wavy Gravy does kind'a stick in a guy's mind."
"Kesey looked at me with a funny smile, and said, "Last I heard, he was down on the farm in California."
"Oh yeah, thats' cool." I said, wondering why the hell I would ask a stupid question like that. I had to do better than that I figured, so I mentioned that Denny Holmes was a neighbor of ours on the beach in Gearhart where I grew up.
Ken's face lit up and he said,"No shit?" "Denny and I were room mates back in the 50's at U.O., his ol'man was the Governor of Oregon then."
"Yeah",I shot back, "thats' him, Dennys' a hell of a guy."
"He sure is" said Ken.
Kesey was one of those guys that looks straight at you when hes' talking to you, and he looks straight at you when hes' listenin' to you, too. I swear, he had the bluest goddamn eyes of anyone I ever met. Maybe it was because the whites were so white, I dunno, but when he looked right at me, I swear, I could feel it. Also, even though he was having some trouble with his traveling plans, he seemed so calm, relaxed. The fact that he was hundreds of miles from his home,driving off with some stranger, away from his family left immobilized on some Eastern Oregon highway didn't seem to cause him any anxiety at all. The cat had presence. He seemed to be a guy that would be okay anywhere, under any given circumstance. Here was a man in the prime of his life who looked tanned, healthy, and extremely fit.
We got aquainted as we drove on into Pendleton, got some gas, and returned out to the dam, where the others were waiting. When we got there, Ken introduced me to his brother, Chuck. We shook hands, and I met the three teenage boys. One of Ken's sons, one of Chuck's, and a buddy of one of the Kesey boys. Ken and Chuck got some tools outta the back of the van, and went to work on the engine, getting it ready to put some gas in the carb to see if they could get it to fire. I stood off to the side, and watched'em go at it. I couldn't help but notice how beat tired those kids and Chuck were. They seemed exhausted,almost zombied out, but Ken was just brimming with energy, and he moved around smoothly with an athletic confidant spring in his motions.
These guys had been up in the mountains, deer hunting, for days. They had every reason to be tired. Deer hunting in that country is work. You get up early and cover some steep ass ground. The hunters might spread out along a hillside and try to push the game into the range of a shooter, Or, someone might be sent to the canyon bottom, to beat the brush, to get the deer to break out and somebody might get a shot that way, too. All day, you make sweeps and drives. You might hike around all day and not see anything to shoot at, or if you do get some shots, and knock one down, you might be all night packin' the critter back to camp, or, at least to a road where you can load it up. Yeah, deer hunting up there isn't easy, even if you don't get any. If you do get'em, you've worked your ass off.
I moved around the back of the van, and checked out the interior. In there, I must'a seen four sets of deer legs stickin' outta their meat sacks. Yeah, these guys could hunt in Eastern Oregon. No mistake 'bout that. In with the meat was all their camping gear, bed rolls, extra clothes and stuff. Off to the side, against the wall of the van, I could see their rifles,well kept old ones, carefully placed, breeches open, all pointing the same direction.
Ken and Chuck had poured the gas into the tank, and had primed the carb and cranked it, but the engine wouldn't start. Not even a pop. She was as dead as those four Mule Deer ridin' in back.
I told'em I had twenty feet of log chain under my pickup seat, so, I broke that out, backed up to the front of van, and lashed up to'em. Chuck Kesey took the wheel of the van, and Ken got back in my rig, and I took the slack outta the chain, pulled back on the road and towed the whole outfit on into Pendleton.
It was just about dark when we hit town. I asked Ken where he wanted the van, and he said "we'll just go park it along the railroad tracks, a couple'a blocks west of Main Street and camp there tonight." "Maybe we can get fixed up in the morning".
When we found a place to park the van, Chuck announced he was ready to go find a Chinese joint, have a meal, then get some sleep.
Those kids, when they saw the size of the party goin' on Main Street,with all the carnival rides and other teenagers whoopin' it up, well, they suddenly came back to life in a hurry and didn't want no part of hangin' around with the older generation.
Ken asked me what I had in mind for myself, and I told him I was just coming into town to do some beer drinkin' and get some relief from the lonely life I led out on the ranch lately. I was married then, and my wife and little baby boy had been with me most of the summer, but they'd gone back down to Astoria,'bout the first of September, so I was sort'a ready for some bright lights, and smokey, noisy bar rooms. Ken then said this sounded real good to him, too, because he was thirsty and just it happened to be his birthday, September 17th. I told him my birthday was nine days ago, and when I asked him how old he was, he kind'a looked off into the darkening sky, and said in a wistful tone, "I'm 37."*
With all this settled, Kesey then dug around in the van and brought out one of those yellow plastic margarine tubs, slipped it into the inside pocket of his hunting jacket,and told his gang he'd see'em later. We got back in my rig and drove up towards the Umatilla River and found a parkin' spot just around the corner from the Temple Hotel. We just sat there as Ken fished that margarine tub outta his pocket, popped the lid off and pulled out one of those big fat Thai Sticks and some rollin' papers. Then, quicker than you can say Jerry Garcia, we were in business.
We sat in the bar at the Temple for a couple of hours, having several drinks and just talking away. I must'a asked him a million questions, and he was so patient, and thoughtful in responding. We talked about so many things. His books, the famous people he'd met, and knew. He told me about the job he had in that nut house in California, where he got the bug to write "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". He said he remembered talking to the head doc, a shrink, in his office there, and asking him how in the hell he could stand it, you know, being around people that were so out of it. Ken told me the doc said, "I'll show you how I handle it", and opened up his desk drawer which was just full of bags of weed.
When we talked about,"Sometimes A Great Notion", he told me he got the idea for the story from just drivin' by this old house that was on the way from Eugene to Florence. A big old abandoned farm house that sat on a bend in the Siuslaw River through the Coast Mountains. Just from that one image he invented that family, and carved out that great story.
When I asked him what he thought the best book he ever read was, he said,"Mobey Dick", and went into why he thought it was such a great novel.
He was interested in me, too, curious, in fact. I told him what I did, and why. I told him about the ranch, and how much it meant to me, bein' a part of something like that. I told him about my love of commercial salmon fishing up and down the Oregon, California, Washington coasts, and what good gig that was for me. He had friends in the fishing business ,and had been out with them. Said he really dug it. He was such an outdoorsman. He loved talkin' about being outside,being with nature. He knew a lot about animals. Their different kinds of existences and habits, how each species complimented, or found it necessary to rely on another. The predator deal. He said he was heartend to see so many predatory birds on his hunting trip. It meant a healthy environment, a bounty of nature. He said it was good to see "fat hawks".
We talked about his hunting trip, and the success they'd had, but, he wasn't all that into braggin' about the killing. Hunting was something the men in his family had always done. When he asked what the game was like up at the ranch, I told him we had great hunting there. The place was always closed off to anyone but family and friends, so, it wasn't ever too hard to find game, in or outta season. In fact, our place is kind of a refuge because the hunting pressure is so light. When I told him that a couple of years back, a hunting party made up of my cousins got eleven bucks opening day, and only two were forked horns, he kind'a snapped his head back and said he thought that was some pretty damn good deer hunting. I suggested then that if he and the boys needed a place to go elk hunting, come November, to just let me know a little a head of time, then come on up. We got great bull hunting, too. He said that'd be cool, but he didn't know if for sure he'd have the time.
The Pendleton Round-Up is one of the oldest rodeos in the west, and for the city of Pendleton, that means four days of a jam packed town. People come from all over the country to watch the best cowboys in the business compete, but, they come for the party, too. There is no end of parades, carnivals, dances, gambling dens, and Indian pagents. People just really love to whoop it up there. At night the bars and taverns fill up as the people kind'a wanna rub up against each other, renew old friendships, and start new ones. Its' just the way it is. Down along Main Street, the drinkin' places just spill over with talkin' and laughin' as people wander in and out of the different joints.
Kesey had just bought us another round,when both of us noticed a couple of pretty blond twenty-something girls hesitating at the entrance, you know, like they were looking for somebody in particular, or, for that matter, seeing if there was even any room in the bar. We both kind'a looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and with out sayin' a word, I got up and went over introduced myself and invited them to join my friend and I for a drink.
When I introduced the girls to Ken, I sort'a expected a reaction of some sort,but they just said, "hi, nice to meet you". When I said this was "The" Ken Kesey, they both still drew a blank, so I sort'a mentioned he was the guy that wrote ,One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, which had been made into the Oscar winning movie two years earlier. They said they were familiar with the film, but still couldn't associate the film, or the book, with the nice guy who had bought them a couple of drinks. Ken just kind of rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and laughed. The girls sort'a looked plexed, like maybe we were trying to bullshit'em, or something, so we just dropped it, and talked about Pendleton, the Round-up, and what a crazy night it was. Ken was having a great time, and so was I. He was wonderful company, and so self effacing. I never heard him say one bad thing about anything, or anybody, nor did he say anything good about himself. He was just there, you know, just takin' it all in. Those girls had a couple of drinks with us, then, they took off. We had a few more, and decided we needed a change of scenery ourselves.
After a few hours at The Temple, we left and went to the Silver Saddle and had'a couple. From there to The Rainbow, the finest cowboy bar in town. With it's 1930's simple decor, collection of antlers, and old photos of the Round-Up winners, its' the classic example of a ranchers and cowboys hangout. It was here we had our last drink of the evening as the bartenders were closing up.
We hit Main Street where there were a few people still wandering around amid the carnival rides that were being disassembled with a lot of hollerin' and bangin'. We walked the couple of blocks to my pick-up and got in and Kesey broke out that margarine tub again. He quickly twisted one up and we sat there passing the joint back and forth and talking. He wanted to know if I ever got down to Eugene, and I told him hardly ever, that it just wasn't on my usual route. I was either up here on the ranch or living at the beach. He said if I ever got to Eugene to give him a call, or come on out to his place if I wanted to. Said he also had a beach house at Yachats, south of Newport. I said when I'm fishing I usually got into Newport a few times during the summer salmon season. Then he said he had an unlisted phone number for his beach house, and if I wanted to come visit just give him a call. Then, he said
"LIP EYED"**, with a exaggerated accent on the "p".
"Huh,...What?" I asked.
"LIP EYED", he said again, "thats' the phone number at the beach house." He then explained that he makes phone numbers into words from the corresponding letters on the phone dial.
"LI-P EYED, ya' got it, Jim?"
"LI-P EYED", yeah, I got it, LI-P EYED."
We finished the joint we were smoking, and I stuck the roach in the ashtray. Then I asked him if he wanted a ride back down to the van. He said he wanted to walk since it was only about four or five blocks anyway.
He thanked me again for helpin' them out and said he wouldn't forget it. I told him it was nothing, and that I really had a great time hanging out with him, and reminded him how to get a hold of us if he wanted to come back up and go Elk hunting later in the fall.
Then he handed me the margarine tub with the weed and papers in it, and said,
"You keep this, Jimmy, I got more."
" Whoa, thanks !" is about all I could say to that one, realizing that Ken Kesey had just laid his stash on me.
Man, I couldn't believe it.
He stuck out one of those huge grappler farmer hands, and I shook the hand that shook the hands of Cassady and Kerouac. Of Lennon and Leary. Of Ginsburg and Garcia. I shook the hand that shook the hands of so many people from so many places that it would be impossible to figure'em all. I shook the hand that wrote the books and drove the bus. The hand that turned the wheel and shifted the gears.
I shook the hand that reached out and shook the minds of a generation, and beyond.
I shook the hand that had in a way reached out and shook the world.
Then he split.
From my pickup, I watched him amble on down the dark side street dodgin' carneys, tipsy tourists and staggering cowboys. Hands in his pockets and hat pulled low, he sort'a wove a little gin-spired side step as he loped along til he just faded into that warm Umatilla September night's shadow.
It was so quiet after he left that I just sat there for a few minutes, my head kind'a spinning from all the converstation, beer and smoke. I just had to sit there alone and sort of digest the past six hours I'd spent amongst the noisy honkytonks and people.
Then I stuffed the margarine tub under the seat, took a look around and drove the thirty miles back to the ranch. I did'nt go back to the main house, but went on up the canyon at Stanley Creek, where we got a cabin right at the timber line. I stayed there because I'd be able to sleep in, then take a saddle horse I had there and to check on the livestock up in the timber and along the creek.
When I finaly made it back to the main house the next afternoon, old Laura wanted to know how my night in town went. So, I told her I had the most fun I'd had in a hell of a long time, told her that I had towed Kesey and company into town and we made the rounds in the ginmills. She said she'd heard he'd been around, and knew he had some old friends around Pendleton. Then I mentioned that I had invited him and his gang up for some elk hunting come November, and asked her if she'd be okay with that. She'd said that would be fine with her.
Then life just kind'a returned to the usual routine up there.
"Damn," said Darrell,"Sounds like you had a pretty good time that night."
"Yeah, I sure did,Man" I told him, "In fact, that was about the best night of barhopping I ever had."
"Did Kesey come back up and do some elk hunting?" Darrell wanted to know.
"Nah", I said, "I never did hear back from him on the hunting, just wasn't in the cards, I guess."
"Did'ya ever see him again?" Darrell asked.
"Yeah, by God, I did at that."
When he came to the Maritime Museum in Astoria back in 1992 to promote and sign his latest book, Sailor Song, I just had to go down to where he was and see him. There was tons of people there,all waiting to get their books signed. I bought a copy and got at the end of the long line that was moving kind'a slow, because he was visiting with everybody as they came up to get their copies signed. I was still about three or four people back in line from him when he saw me, and he had a grin on his face when he said,
"Jim!" "Its' good to see you again!"
I was amazed he'd remembered my name.
When it was my turn to get my book signed, we got to visit for a little bit and have a few laughs remembering our evening on the town. I was kind'a surprised he'd remembered it so well because it had been fifteen years, but he had a really good recollection of it all. The guy was something else. He had an absofuckinlutely incredidble memory.
I handed him my copy and he went to work on it with all these felt pens and little stamps he used to autograph with. He wrote something and drew some funny little pictures, then signed his name real big in yellow felt pen. We only had the time to chat a couple of minutes as there were lots of people waiting to get their books signed. We shook hands, said our thankyous, goodbyes and good lucks, then,I left.
I never saw him again after that.
"Well", said Darrel,"Thats' cool you got a book he signed for you, ya know?"
"No, I didn't have him sign it for me, Darrel", I explained. "I had him sign it to a woman I was trying to impress at the time, and I gave it to her as a gift." "I guess she wasn't too impressed, though, because I havn't seen her, or the book, since."
But I do have something that I take out and look at every few years, you know, something that brings back memories." I said.
"Oh yeah, whats that?" Darrel wanted to know. So, I told him
"I got a magarine tub with a little bamboo stick,a piece of bamboo thread and a pack of EZ Widers rolling papers inside."
"Yeah, I've saved those things for twenty five years."
We're getting close to Eugene now. Rolling south on Interstate 5. The freeway seems to me like a river of concrete that flows and goes and carries the north and south bound traffic the length of the Willamette Valley. To the east are the heavy forested foothills of the Cascade Mountains, and to the west the Coast Mountains, looking almost black against the grey western storm sky that just seems to be covering the higher hills like a blanket. The valley floor is flat, with the occasional little hill every few miles. The Willamette River winds back and forth as it flows north to it's meeting with the Columbia. This is all farm land, and the the fields where the grain and grass seed farmers do their business looks like a bright emerald green carpet thats' been rolled across the valley floor.
The closer we get to Eugene the clearer the sky becomes and the has rain stopped. We both know this is a good thing because the McDonald Theater has seating for a thousand, and the public announcements stated that speakers were going to be set out side so people that couldn't get in would be able to hear what was being said inside.
*(when he told me he was 37 I couldn't help but notice his change in demeanor. Sept.17,1977 was actually his 42nd birthday. Somewhere its written,"Never trust a prankster." I guess that applies especially to questions of age.)
**not the actual number
(I'll be adding on to this segment over the next 24 hrs. somethings come up, and I gotta split for awhile.sorry about the incompletion...jff 4/17 19:30