Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Redneck Daze

1978 was the year that Baton Rouge Louisiana survived my presence along with the hurricane that touched down at Blue Bayou. In November of 1977, it dawned on my drug-fogged brain that it would really be a good idea to look for a job since school would be finished in December. I was babysitting a little red-headed autistic kid named Brett when I grabbed the family's newspaper and turned to the want ads. I promptly discovered that VISTA wanted me. I signed up and a couple months later off I went.

After a whirlwind trip-- through Connecticut (ate a meatball bomber), Boston Massachusetts (stayed at the Little Copley; saw Marshall Tucker in concert, and the movie "The Sting"; went up to the revolving bar; ate crepes downtown and listened to a bagpipe player from Alaska; called Johnathan Kozol up on the telephone and got to meet him and his sheepdog), up on through Salem (toured the House of the Seven Gables), into Maine (Route One), turned left at Bangor, went skiing in Jackson, New Hampshire (Wildcat Mountain; a stoned New Year's Eve at a local's log cabin in Concord; ate dinner with an old lady local at a restaurant who liked to chat with travelers), on through Vermont (more skiing perhaps, memory falls now), and home again-- I packed up the car with pretty near everything I could cram into it plus one cat and headed off for San Antonio, Texas.

I snuck the cat into every motel I slept in, caught a tour of Tuskeegee Institute, and got drunk in Freeport, Texas. My friend Madelin had arranged for me to stay at her two aunties' house there. In return for washing dishes at their Mexican Restaurant, I was given as much as I wanted to eat and plenty of beer to wash the food down with. I (and the cat) slept on their very pleasant screened in porch. The two aunties were actually one aunt and her lover. They were my first exposure to a non-heterosexual couple in which I was able to put aside my xenophobia long enough to discover that prejudice was a prison that kept me from enjoying people.

In San Antonio, I met some other VISTA volunteers and our trainer who was a proud drunken Chicano. I went on a tour of The Alamo, walked the river walk, ate at a cool Mexican restaurant, and got drunk too. I was there for three inches of snow. In amazement I watched the city shut down over it.

After a return stop to Freeport and the two aunties (I believe they must have agreed to watch the cat during my training), I was off to Baton Rouge. Johnnie Oliver was our VISTA supervisor there. I quickly established myself as a party animal and was off to the first of five apartments and my job assignments. I worked in a nursery school mornings (hello Robert Brazeale if you are reading this) and at a literacy center afternoons. I found the bar across from the literacy center and my custom quickly became to drink three frozen strawberry margaritas for my half-hour lunch break. I found that working was not to my liking so in early summer I ditched both assignments, having talked my way into working part-time as a literacy tutor at L.C.I.W. (women's state pen) in St. Gabriel, Louisiana.

I was always high. I got high before reporting to the prison and I left joints visible in the ashtray for my return trip home at the end of the days that I did work. One woman from Connecticut by her self-report was in prison for three years for having been found with three joints while passing through Lake Charles, Louisiana. Perhaps there was more to that story but it didn't occur to me then that there might be.

Besides being high, I was not really suited for prison work. (N.B. and still not). I did not have a commanding voice, I was shy, I had the appearance of one who was gullible and easily manipulated. Fortunately for me, the woman who taught upholstery determined that I needed watching. It was through her direct intercession that my "office" where I tutored women in reading and math was moved from the chaplain's office to a trailer directly in view of where she held her classes. It was the upholstery teacher who told me that if a prisoner asked me to bring her anything from the outside to say NO. Thus when I was approached by two prisoners who asked me to get them a National Enquirer or some other yellow sheet from a Piggly-Wiggly supermarket, I was able to tell them I didn't know what a Piggly-Wiggly was (I didn't, it's a supermarket chain). They gave up quickly, saying to each other "Come on. We will go ask [one of the guards]. She'll get it for us."

Baton Rouge was a university town and a cesspool of drugs. My last apartment was a small loft among other lofts in what was known as "drug alley." There were bars up the street and bars down the street. There were bars all over town then, along with the dirty movie house called the Regina which the locals changed to rhyme with the word vagina. And yes, I had my obligatory trek to the Regina-Vagina where I saw "Seven Into Snowy" as well as the perennial favorite "Deep Throat." The gas station was up the street from Drug Alley. Having quit VISTA and rendered virtually unemployable by my inability to show up anywhere sober, I and some other hippie freaks spent our nights at the gas station. The gas station held the distinction of never having been held up. My guess was that it was because of the ever-present stoners there at night, all night, every night.

During my time in Baton Rouge, I drank, smoked dope, smoked hash, smoked opium once (and I wanted to immediately crawl into a cave in Southeast Asia somewhere with the other opium users and never come out), did shrooms (they grew in the cow shit of the Bramen cows present along the levee of the Mississippi which was rented out to farmers, did a bunch of pills, did mescaline, and participated in the rush of Mr. Natural blotter acid for a couple of weeks which was my undoing.

Baton Rouge was a city which had redneck pride. Yeah there was a gay bar (karate whites were "in" that year) and a definite presence of students from far off places (notably Iran-- I had lunch with several of them in their apartment and went to a meeting of Students for a Democratic Society which was showing the Joe Hill film that night) and certainly it was not a "whites only" kind of city. Interracial couples-- no big deal on the eastern seaboard-- were just allowing themselves to be out in public. The Ku Klux Klan had an office on Florida Avenue and a listing in the phone book. New Orleans was an hour and a half away (and requires its' own entry to do it justice).

I was hanging out with The Shitdogs, a local punk rock group whose music showed a definite influence by the band Devo. I was a foul-mouthed drugged up drunk. When I called home, I told my dad that I wanted to get a pistol for my own protection and he started to really worry. I told people lies about how I was doing and myself even bigger ones but the Bad Acid Trip stopped most of that. There was a rush of Mr. Natural blotter acid and I tripped every night for a couple of weeks. I had stored them in the freezer and the hippies at the gas station said that made it "stronger" but I don't know if that was true or not. At any rate, my last acid trip found me laying on my loft listening to Jefferson Airplane sing "Go Ask Alice" [White Rabbit] over and over again because the stereo for some reason refused to play through the whole album. Instead the stereo tortured me by having its' needle play through the song and then return to the beginning again. After several hours, my brain determined that I needed to get the hell out of there. So I walked to the gas station where several hippies saw my condition and took me out to get me drunk. After a stop for Italian food at the only Italian restaurant in town, we went to the pool-players bar. I promptly began loudly proclaiming that the pool players were "all a bunch of rednecks." The hippies got me out of there quickly and took me to a quieter bar where they plied me with enough beer so that the Bad Acid Trip was no longer so Bad.

The next day I called all the relations in search for A Way Out, and as luck would have it, my grandfather upstate New York on the farm just had a heart attack. I promptly volunteered to relocate "in order to help my grandmother with the cows," once again packed up everything I owned (minus the cat Dylan who turned up with four kittens one day but plus Herbie the puppy who I snuck into motel rooms stoned out on anti-carsickness pills obtained from the five dollar vet in Baton Rouge), and was off again.

Upstate New York was a whole different living experience. I had left acid behind but after a few weeks found the bar. My grandmother never did let me help her with the cows. I was assigned to watering the calves. Cows are expensive.

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