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The Portable Wall

May 17, 2020

May 17, 2020

I keep trying to encourage my friend Ezra to document, to write.  Life can be tedious for him, locked in a solitary apartment during a pandemic, so I have sympathy.  The other day we talked about a magazine I used to publish, called The Portable Wall.

This was the second issue. Cover by Dirk Lee. I put them out for grabs at the university and they quickly disappeared.

Who hasn’t thought about starting a magazine?  Probably lots of people.  

I think of E. E. Cummings’ poem, “let’s start a magazine.”

let’s start a magazine 

to hell with literature 

we want something redblooded

lousy with pure 

reeking with stark 

and fearlessly obscene

but really clean 

get what I mean 

let’s not spoil it 

let’s make it serious

something authentic and delirious 

you know something genuine like a mark 

in a toilet

graced with guts and gutted 

with grace

squeeze your nuts and open your face.

I visited several websites to find this poem.  The first two sites left off the last line, possibly to make the poem more palatable to children?

In 1976 I discharged from the Marine Corps to return to the University of Montana to  return to journalism.  I had abandoned my studies in 1968 after breaking up with my girlfriend.  I wrote a screed in my world literature class complaining the professor was boring, rather than trying to address the final exam question.  He gave me a passing grade anyway.  Soon I was on a passenger train to Seattle.

Also, I decided not to stay in school to avoid the army.  I figured I’d go to Seattle to visit my brother, then possibly head to Canada.  Vietnam was terrifying.  Bodies were being shipped back daily.  My classmate, Kim Archer, had been killed.  Danny Sanders had been wounded.

Ultimately I left Seattle, then stayed a couple days in Eugene with people about to defect to Canada.  Only, I disliked the defectors.  They seemed self-righteous, or selfish, or something.  I slipped away, grabbed a freight train back to Seattle.  I was in the ID bookstore and saw a drawing of a soldier bayonetting a baby.  Hippie newspaper.  I tried selling hippie newspapers, earned less than a dollar after hours of work.

I kicked around the country and worked as a telemarketer in Seattle, as a carnival worker in Alaska, then as a gandy dancer on the railroad out of Missoula before I enlisted in the Marines.  Seems counter-intuitive, but I enlisted out of cowardice, not bravery.  If I had been brave, I’d have waited to be drafted.  I was too scared for that.

The Marines about drove me crazy, but I eventually came to love the unique people there.  I hated the boot-lickers and sycophants, but plenty of others, such as Bill Moody, Crazy Ed Bonk, Gunner Robertson, turned into friends I could relate to.  My nickname was Stork.

Took a long time before our family of five could afford to leave the Marines.  

When off the base, I had to deliver newspapers, fix up and sell old Volkswagens to fatten up our bank account.  We had a duck.  Tried to fry her eggs, but they tasted fishy.  I tried to cook some small squid in a pan.  They were from Huntington Beach.   Rubbery and I felt sorry for the kids who gamely sawed at the flesh with a butter knife.  We tossed the squid, made a rare trip to fast-food.

But we got out of the Marines.  Drove a U-Haul from California to Bozeman, then on to Missoula.  We were assigned an apartment in family housing, an X-shaped building a few blocks from campus, on the edge of Mount Sentinel and the marvelous green hill.  The green hill was a child’s paradise, with sledding in the winter.  Only someone sled into a parked car and split open their head.  Like that.  Turns out inner tubes can be dangerous.  They are fast and impossible to steer.  They send you headfirst into parked cars with your tender head and its numerous veins and arteries.

We arrived at Sisson apartments in September in time for Fall classes.  In 1976, military service was nothing to be proud of.  In fact, I felt ashamed, cheap.  None of my hippie friends went into the armed forces, except Bob Verduin who famously said, “Fuck the draft.”  I never found out what happened to Bob.

However, in 1976, I enjoyed visiting with a woman in the old Student Union Building who was responsible for dispensing veteran’s education benefits.  They were dispensed by the month.  I was entitled to 48 months.  School came by the academic quarter in those days, encompassing just shy of nine months each year.  The woman made the 48 months fit the academic quarters by trimming here, cutting there.  She was a genius and I ended up getting all of journalism and most of a pharmacy degree, courtesy of my dear Uncle Sam.  Hell, I earned it.

I went to UM summer session of 1977.  I studied Spanish.  My old friend Dana Graham helped me with vocabulary and I got an A.  I worked on the Kaimin.  I took a course in journalism from Wilbur Wood, titled, “Poetry and Journalism.”  We read Vonnegut and Le Guin and kept a journal.  We wrote papers.  A young woman told about a lounge downtown that she regarded as her home.  I wrote some kind of bullshit about some damn thing.  Wilbur was encouraging, though.  He required each of us to have a project.  Mine was to start a magazine.

I’d wanted to make a magazine since high school when my friends and I drew panels for a super hero comic book.  We didn’t get the project off the ground. Now, in 1977, I had another chance.

Again Dana came to the rescue with a $10 bill to help pay for the first issue of the magazine.  Since she was putting up the majority of the money, she got to name it.  Hence, The Portable Wall.  The original, non-portable wall was a wall in a hippie hangout on Main Street in downtown Missoula.  The wall had graffiti.  “Life is what we do while waiting to die,” comes to mind.

The magazine had a life of its own.  Turns out many people contributed money, stories, poems, drawings.  Dirk Lee contributed wood engravings.  We published many issues with as many as 60 pages, until 1996, when I returned to college as a non-traditional student at Idaho State to work on an advanced pharmacy degree.

The most recent contributor to the Wall was Frank Dugan with $10, a couple years ago.  

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  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, the days of soda and pretzels, and beer.
    The old portable wall was a venerable anachronism that lives to tell a tale.
    What about a best stories from the wall edition?

  2. I would have to get permission from the authors, I believe. Some of the best writers were the flighty kind, vanishing without a trace.

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