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On the bum. . . .

July 13, 2022

Writing is hard work, make no mistake.  One might think it is easy work, but those would be mere appearances.  One might see a writer staring vacantly into space, probably giving birth to an intense murder mystery.  Moments later the writer may flip open the laptop to type furiously into a word-processing program.  Fingers are moving quickly, but the rest of the writer appears to be quiescently existing.  This is hard work?

Yes.  But so is building a fence.  Well, the fence might be as hard a job, so the argument loses some of its punch.  I didn’t really want to get into the pros and cons of fence building here.  So I won’t.

Lucy is sleeping on the arm of my chair.  Gunther is asleep five or six feet away.

I was hitching rides across Canada in early 1969 when I fell in with a young man who knew people in common with me from Missoula.  I smoked tobacco in those days, so I gave him one of my cigarettes and we compared our list of folks.  I remember he remarked of Peter Koch:  “He is mysterious.”

Today I read that Peter is moving his printing press to new quarters in Berkeley, California.  Of course, that means the press, the type, the typesetting tables with imposing stone, and the press.  These machines weigh thousands of pounds.  

Peter was in his early twenties when I met him at his door in Missoula.  

Peter lived in a log, low-slung shake-covered house, on the edge of Kiwanis Park on the Missoula River.

Tom was in front of me, asking Peter if we could stay with him in his back room.  “You are welcome to stay, Tom,” Peter said, and I pushed in right behind Tom into P.’s back room, floor to ceiling with every esoteric book about Eastern religions and scholarly works by all of the great thinkers of the world.  We were fortunate to own a couple of mattresses and some bedding, and soon we were sound asleep.  We’d travelled all the previous day and night to arrive from Seattle in Tom’s 1953 Chevy sedan he’d gotten from his uncle Norman Ackley, a lawyer with lots of friends.

We tried to find lodging on our own, but Tom and I had little money and many of the landlords of Missoula had been previously burned by students with antisocial habits and who were not apt to pay rent in a timely way.

A potential landlord said it best:  “I don’t know what your habits are.”

Peter knew what our habits were.  We liked to take mind-expanding drugs, we enjoyed making music for hours on end, we enjoyed the Spring Missoula weather.  We didn’t worry too much about food to eat or clothes to wear.  If things got bad enough we figured we could find a job doing something to earn some money.  

Peter’s back room connected to his kitchen by a hallway with access to a bathroom.  The kitchen accommodated about one butt at a time, and Peter’s living room, which he had converted to a generous bed with some chairs around it.  Peter slept on the bed.  The rest of us sat on the edge of the bed and played our guitars.  I’d drum or play blues chords, Tom used to turn his Gibson classical guitar over and drum on the wooden back.  Peter supplied the dope and papers and we toked freely.

Days passed, Peter, Tom and I went fishing up Gold Creek, then cooked the trout in Peter’s kitchen, serving brown rice along with.  

One remarkable evening two women arrived at Peter’s house:  Penny and Dana.  That was the first I’d met Penny, but I’d seen Dana among the hippies at the UM food service where we always put a bunch of tables together and feasted as a group of bearded and long-haired men, and equally long-haired women.  Our meetings on weekdays lasted until the food service personnel ushered us out.  Women had strict curfews at their residence halls.  Men didn’t, so we’d follow the women home, planting ourselves inside in front of the blaring televisions.  We’d claim to be waiting for specific individuals.  I got kicked out because I insisted on entertaining one of the women by letting her sit on my lap.

We dressed like clowns because our government was turning the men into soldiers, shipping them off to Vietnam to be traumatized or killed.  Or both.  We’d rather get stoned and get thrown out of the women’s dormitory.

Once liberated we walked down to the University Congregational Church to their downstairs coffee house for a few hours, then we’d be back to the dorm rooms to listen to heavy acid rock:  Rolling Stones, Beatles, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendryx, Blue Cheer.  We sat on the edge of beds, toked weed, and smoked regular tobacco cigarettes.

Looking back, the worst drug experiences I had were with the legal drugs:  tobacco cigarettes and alcohol.  Alcohol wouldn’t have been much of a problem, because none of us bought it very often.  We were too young.  But a friend of Mark’s, a hispanic youth named Raol, got caught with a six-pack of beer and was expelled from the university.  The rest of us smoked marijuana in plain view of the RAs, and we got no punishment.  In fact we jeered at the RAs and called them tyrants.  Gary, a bearded hippie from New York, called our RA a tyrant.  

I got in trouble for typing late into the night.  I wrote some of my most enlightened pieces in those days of youth, of innocence, of freakishness.  I put a carpet up on the wall and put the typewriter on a stack of towels to deaden the noise, but the clacking typewriter got me into trouble.  The following term I was moved into a corner room on the first floor, over the laundry facility.  That facility proved to be a meeting place when I didn’t return home for the holidays my sophomore year.  There I spent time with the guys from the East Coast, such as Steve Franklin from Philly.  I didn’t wash my clothes often, but during the holidays when the residence hall was empty there wasn’t much else to do.  I don’t remember how I ate, but I did have a sausage or two hanging out my dorm room window.  A friend, Steve Spoja, visited me in my room and I shared the sausage with him.  Steve used to show up with some good dope.  I don’t know where he got it, but he and Larry Felton often talked about making some money on the side dealing dope.  Suited me, as long as the dope was of good quality.  That last requirement wasn’t always easy to fulfill, although Larry Felton denied that he had dope that was tainted.  I thought he did, though.

Smoking weed did not help me write my assignments for journalism school, so I elected to change my major to English, despite my lack of any knowledge of what a degree in English would entail, as far as academic work.

By the end of my second calendar year at Missoula, I was ready to quit school.  That in itself was a thrill because I wrote my final exam in world literature as a personal attack and critique of the professor who taught us.  I let him have it, his sniveling ways, his apologetic demeanor.  I ended up with a B, much to my surprise.

I thought I was a rock and roll star because of a brief stint with a band we named “Water.”  It was Gordon Simard on vocals, me on my electric Gibson hollow body, John Herman as a drummer, I don’t remember our bass guitarist, but he was our manager and got busted for selling weed to high school kids.  His lawyer was expensive, so he had to move to Idaho and work in the silver mines of Kellogg to get out of debt.

Our band “Water” played perhaps three or four gigs before we disbanded.  We did one in Missoula at a roller rink, another in the Copper Commons ball room, and one in Helena at a community center.  “Water” had a repertoire of three songs:  “Keep on Chooglin’” and “Slow blues.”  The third song was “I ain’t superstitious,” by Jimmy Reed.  We played these songs for extended sets to satisfy the time requirement to play for a high school shindig.

I had such a guitar!  Got it from Eliel’s department store in Dillon, Montana.  I believe someone from the local railroad street bar gave it up when he was in debt, or else he got shot.  Such was the underground population in Dillon.  Consisted of alcoholic railroad riders and ranch hands, all of whom were out of my hands.  I was glad to buy an incredible guitar, well broken in.  Came in a brown case and the amplifier I was able to rent from Hansen’s Music in Missoula was also brown, not a modern solid-state like Jerry Prinz’s public address system.  Still I could play loudly and fat.  In those days, the good bands had a big sound, so we did the best with the gear we could rent or borrow.

I thought the guitar was my ticket to playing with a good band. . .like I might find in Seattle.  I left a notice on a bulletin board at the ID bookstore on hippie hill in Seattle, but it got one inquiry, and although I promised him an insane experience to hear me play, the person on the other end of the line would have none of it.  Guitar pretty much stayed in its case in Seattle while I tried to make a living selling hippie newspapers:  “The Helix.”  I don’t know how long it stayed in print, but I think several years is a fair estimate.

My friend Bill Yenne made friends with the publisher of “The Helix” and sold him lots of illustrations done with pen and ink.  I’m talking Rapidograph pens and fine white board.  Bill has gone on to publish many books and he had made himself a nice living, still friends with Larry Felton in Sacramento, California.

Bill Yenne captured many photos during our hip years.
  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    Hi Dan, How good to hear from you and learn about Lucy on your lap. Does Penny know about Lucy? Does she approve?

    We are having quite a season of expenses with 2 big cherry trees down so that will be a couple thousand $. Then the electric gate opener went out, ka ching, that’s another $ 4,000. Then Fran has a cracked molar that will require a crown, ka ching, that’s another $3,000. Luckily, we have the $ but to have all of these expenses hit in the same month before we leave for Astoria for the month is sure a big surprise. I did speak to Carol who was with Chris in Ketchikan. I sent her a book to read. What is happening with you guys? We have been communicating with your wonderful daughter, Clara, trying to get a time when she is available to come over and examine all the situations and locations for our will because she is the executor. So we have a lot to do before we leave for Astoria in 18 days. Stay well, be happy, and let Penny sit on your lap or your arm if she wants to do so. Give Penny a kiss from us and you can kiss yourself too, :)B


    • Thank you, good Blaine. Sorry to hear about your untoward expenses. Happy fishing! Dan ________________________________

  2. Doug Dodd permalink

    Memory lane for sure, though many of the players were different. I did become close to Jerry Printz and knew several of the others. John P and Doug Bieri, Lindas -Fry and Kenny etc. Very little of my early writings survived my homeless years in the 90’s which I suspect is just as well. Remarkable how much of your work survives. Thanks 😊

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