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Banging on a guitar

April 3, 2015

The first time I saw P. she was with Dana Graham. P. was this beautiful woman with straight long black hair walking into Peter Koch’s house through the kitchen. Both were obviously hip 20-year-olds. Somehow I remember they were in town from Billings or maybe Great Falls. Tom was playing drum on the back of his Gibson. I was sitting on Peter’s bed jamming on an old arch top I got from Bill Reynolds in Seattle. Peter was playing guitar, chanting. Nowadays, that would be called rapping. P. said, “Sounds like some good music in here!” or perhaps words to that effect. Made me feel pretty glad they had strolled in. She soon rolled me a cigaret from a Zig Zag and some sort of tobacco that came in a round tin, maybe Balkan Sobranie. I was pretty full of myself. We did sound good. It was blues. We played into the night.
Life was looking good because my brother Tom and I had just gotten jobs with the Northern Pacific on a steel gang. My friend John Herman quit after one day. Our friend Peter was happy because we were moving out of his tiny house. Jerry Printz was happy because we were going to be working with him. David Puveur and his wife were happy because they could pay rent with his decent check. They had a VW camper van and would soon be living in a place of their own.
Everyone crashed at Peter’s house that night. At least I think they did. Tom and I had been living in the back bedroom of Peter’s house, a room completely lined with books, floor to ceiling. One small section of wall had a map of Paris where Peter had lived when he was 20 and had a letter of credit from a wealthy relative that allowed him to live like a bum in those days. Dana slept back there with us, but I don’t know where anyone else stayed. We went horseback riding the next day after someone fixed us some eggs.
We went in David and his wife’s camper van. On the way through Missoula to Mount Jumbo, where we could rent horses, I remember riding in the back with P. That was when she and I looked into each others’ eyes. I thought something special was happening, but I didn’t know for sure. Actually, something special was happening.
After we had spent a week working for the Northern Pacific Tom and his girlfriend Christine rented a house on Missoula’s north side, near the roundhouse. They invited P. and me to stay there too. Actually we had no other place to go. By then we were for all intents and purposes, a pair.
My problem was that I was so afraid of going to Vietnam that thoughts of it kept me awake at night. I felt that the stones in the railroad track bed were somehow speaking to me about death. I was so afraid.
I was proud to walk around town with P. We visited the Double Front Cafe. We visited lots of other soup kitchens on Higgins Avenue. Once this guy in a greasy apron responded to my request for “a light” by grabbing this huge foot-tall cigaret lighter and ceremoniously flicking it for me. He had only one thing on his menu, a soup.
Jerry, David, Tom and I were all railroad men, earning really good money. I don’t know how much. I used to just hand the whole bundle of cash to P. and ask her to pay the bills and buy groceries. Made me proud. For my part, I made a collection of oddball railroad spikes: some had 2 points, some 2 heads. Like that.
Ultimately I voiced the unthinkable: I needed to join the military service to face my greatest fear. I remember P. reacted by saying she felt lost and alone. I felt that I likely would not return, so I needed to make myself as unsavory as possible. Made me crazy.

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