Monday, July 17, 2017

Jay and the Americans - A New Adventure in a Few Parts

AM has been on vaca for the past ten days, a western road trip with my son that emulates the Arizona trip I took with my father in 1970 (the inspiration for several episodes in Jay and the Americans). It's rough to post from an iPhone, so a big thanks to those loyal readers who joined us anyway. I've posted a mess of episodes from the novel hoping you'll want to read more - you know, buy a copy. The next few posts will revolve around Jay and the Americans and Jerome, what was a ghost town in 1970 and is today a hipster paradise full of upscale pizza and trendy shops. It's also the home of Puscifer (there's the music angle), but we'll get to that tomorrow. For now: 

We were In Hollbrook, Arizona in a concrete teepee. A train went by on the other side of the highway.  The Union Pacific.  It had over a hundred rusty brown boxcars.  There was a rhythm to it, like a song, like "Riders on the Storm."  It was a long day and when Laugh-in was over my father and I went out to Joe and Aggie's Cafe.  It was a crummy little place that was real nice.  There was a senorita and a man in a sombrero panted on the front.  We sat in a booth and then we played some pinball.  We had chili and my father had a couple beers.  I bought a postcard.  The Navajo name for Hollbrook is T’iisyaakin.  We ate there again in the morning.  It was kind of the only place in town.  My father had a Western omelet.

We were just south of Flag.  The song on the radio was "Mellow Yellow."  I was singing.  "Born-a high forever to fly, a-wind-a velocity nil."

My father said, "That doesn’t even make any sense."  I don’t know. Sometimes songs make sense, sometimes they don’t, but we didn't get a chance to talk about it; just then a tire blew out.

We pulled over to the side of the road.  He had to take all our things out of the truck to get at the spare, so our luggage was lined along the highway.  My father was down on his knees pulling the shredded wheel off the axle.  I took his picture.  "What the hell are you doing?" he said.  He was kind of mad.

"Capturing the moment."  It would turn out to be a pretty good photo:  Suitcases lined up on the highway, my father working a lug wrench.  Cathedral rock was in the distance; a tire lay on the road. He smiled and wiped the sweat off his forehead.  He said, "You're nuts." He liked this.  He was irritated and cursing about changing a tire, but this is all he really wanted to do. 

He took the three of us to Yosemite when I was three.  I have a photo of him driving the Rambler through a carved out giant redwood.  He's got a big smile on his face.  We stayed in a rental tent.  It had a wood floor and two nice bunks.  It had comfortable camp chairs out front by a fire pit and you could see Half Dome rising up above the towering pines.  My mother hated it.  And Ellen, his new wife, only liked Vegas or Palm Springs or Waikiki.  So, changing the tire was just a part of the adventure.

Jerome, Arizona was a ghost town, but it wasn't like Calico where people just disappeared a hundred years ago.  Jerome was a bustling copper mining town well into the 1950s.  In 1970 the population was 57, plus my father and me.  It was nestled in the side of Cleopatra Hill and overgrown and just what you’d expect; tumbleweed rolling down the abandoned main street.  You could kind of imagine somebody playing the harmonica.  My father fell in love with the place. 

We took a room at the tumbledown Connor Hotel, which was not on our agenda.  It was the only open business in town with the exception of a gallery, what must have been a five and dime abandoned in the 50’s.  There were the remains of an old soda fountain along one wall.  It was like a Woolworth’s after a nuclear blast, like something in a B-movie.  He loved it.  I could see it in his eyes.

I thought it was a little scary.  The kind of place that attracted all sorts: saints, sinners, bikers, psychos, runaways, conmen, magicians, musicians, artists, Tibetan monks; just not many of them.  The old city looked out over an endless, empty valley, like this was it; like there was nothing else after – over every ridge was just another ridge. 

The man at the hotel fit right in, like he'd been there all along.  He had a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tweed vest.  He didn't seem to dress for the weather, but he didn't seem to mind.  The lobby was a ramshackle mix of old furniture and dust.  There was a postcard rack with a slot to put a nickel.  I got one of the hotel and one of Montezuma's Castle.  I also got one of the Grand Canyon because I forgot to get any when we were there.

"Where did everybody go?" I asked the man at the counter.

"Hasn't been anybody."

People are like that.  They think they're funny when they're being smart.  I was looking at the postcard.  "There used to be."  I pointed at the main street in the photo like he’d never seen it.

"When the copper mines closed there was a stampede a nervous folk sellin' their place for bus fare.  They was here, then they wasn’t."  He gave us keys to adjoining rooms.  It was the kind of room where you'd leave your holster slung over the bedpost.  It's where I hung my hat.  Out the window was the endless valley. 

I gazed down the steep road that led from High Street, the main street in town, down into a ravine.  There were vacant storefronts, some with broken windows, it seemed like one building leaning on the next as they meandered down the steep hill, like they'd all fall over one day in an avalanche.  In the middle was a place called George Lu.  It fit because I knew about the west, about the Chinese labor that came over to work the rails at the turn of the century, and those who'd come to stake their claim in the copper mines.  I liked the novels of Zane Gray.  I learned a lot about people from those books, so I knew.  But it was out of place because in the window was a big neon sign that said, "Chop Suey."  I went in my father’s room.  I pointed out the window.  “Can we eat there?”

We rested and walked around the old vacant town.  We talked with artists in the makeshift gallery.  He told them what he did.  He told them one of his paintings was in Arizona Highways.  They seemed impressed.  

As the sun was setting we left the lobby of the hotel and headed down the street to George Lu.  As we approached the neon sign flashed to life: "Chop Suey."  There was a worn red wood door with Chinese writing along each side.  Inside was one aquamarine colored booth.  It smelled of incense and something strange. 

Mr. Lu was sitting at the booth smoking a long clay pipe.  He let out a big blue puff of smoke and went behind the counter.  We sat in the booth and Mr. Lu pointed to a chalkboard.  My father shrugged his shoulders.  The chalkboard was a mess of Chinese characters and smears. 

Mr. Lu said, "I fix you up."  He brought us tea and chopsticks.  We had sweet sour soup.  We had Chop Suey and sticky rice and fa gao.